What you need to know:
- Mwakelemu was born and raised in Mombasa before moving to Nairobi for his undergraduate studies in commerce and law.
- In Nairobi, the self-taught contemporary artist polished his skills with the help of renowned painter and artist, Patrick Mukabi, at Dust Depo Studio.
- As a university student, he also painted T-shirts, perfecting his fabric art, which he sold to fellow students.
Musah Mwakelemu may not be a very well known Kenyan artist. He has been on the art scene for only two years, occasionally holding joint exhibitions with other artists.
The cartoonist, painter and dynamic creative held his first solo exhibition at the Fort Jesus museum in Mombasa.
Titled ‘A journey of infinite miles begins with one step,’ the evening exhibition had more than 30 pieces of art on show.
Mwakelemu was born and raised in Mombasa before moving to Nairobi for his undergraduate studies in commerce and law.
In Nairobi, the self-taught contemporary artist polished his skills with the help of renowned painter and artist, Patrick Mukabi, at Dust Depo Studio.
As a university student, he also painted T-shirts, perfecting his fabric art, which he sold to fellow students.
He then progressed to painting on canvas and in due time began drawing cartoons.
Musah later became a full time artist in 2016.
Since then, he has been painting and drawing. “I have done these pieces over time and now I am coming out to show them and to introduce myself to the public,” he says.
His style is a blend of cartoon and symbolism with politics, justice, human rights, society activities, trends and technology themes to engage the audience, communicate, learn and inspire them.
The artwork is also themed around relationships, love, sexual affiliations, affection, and day-to-day political and social issues.
It is also socially, politically and religiously charged, also touching on the wrongdoings of society and its systems.
He is influenced by his surroundings and what goes on around in Mombasa. 'Hakuna Matata Beach,' he says, was inspired by sex tourism in the Kenyan coast. The dreadlocked man holding a stereo speaker on one arm and a white lady on the other, he says, reflects the interracial romantic affairs common along the coastal beaches.
“If you get a white woman, you will be rich or should be rich. The stereotype … there is a stereo speaker and the typewriter there just because of the name of the piece. The octopus is a symbol of sexual prowess," he said.
He further speaks on press freedom in one titled 'The high price of press freedom.'
His other interesting piece is the portrait of a politician, drawn this year.
“The politician has many mouths because they do not intend to do what they say. The sharp teeth and a crowd of people in the mouth says whatever they are telling you is for them to get a chance to devour you. See there are flies coming from inside the head, meaning there is something rotten in it. The pig on the portrait is a symbol of greed while the rat represents the decay. The open door on the ballot box says your votes are not guaranteed," said Musah.
'The corporate ladder,’ a painting he did in 2016 using acrylics, markers and copies of his degree certificate on canvas, is a lovely depiction of the struggle of unemployed graduates in Kenya.
Mwakelemu is a quiet man who only talks when necessary. He stresses that he only tries to capture the motion and emotion of social and cultural issues in his art.
He has showcased his works at the Karen Village and the Dust Depo Studio in Nairobi.
Besides the exhibition, he posts his art on social media — on Facebook and Instagram.
Musah’s pieces range from Sh1,000 to Sh 80,000.
His highest selling work was about Africa. “It is a modern house where I have drawn cartoons talking about issues that are affecting Africa. It also tells about what we can do to move forward, like we can come together and rise as the African continent,” he said.
He wishes to see more activity in the creative art industry in Mombasa
“The art scene in Mombasa is still slow when you compare it to Nairobi because right now in Mombasa there is no gallery. There is also is no organised institution to assist artists and give them platforms," he says.
He hopes his pieces will one day make it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Starting out is really tough but it gets better with time. If the work is good, you get known and it becomes better. Kenyans need to open their minds to art," he said.