Delicate Densities: Boni experiments with multimedia in solo show

When Boniface Maina made his move out of Nairobi, and back home to Nanyuki, in 2017, nobody knew how long he would be gone.

Having been a co-founder of Brush tu Artists Collective with David Thuku and Michael Musyoka, he would always be a Brush tu artist, no matter where he was based; that was certain. But other than that, no one could tell when he’d be back or what direction his art would take.

Despite being very much a member of the Brush tu family, he had always had his own singular style of operating. As he put it in Susan Githuku’s book, Visual Voices, he had always been experimental in his approach to his art. He was always open to reinventing himself stylistically. So, when we heard he was having his first solo exhibition in a while at Red Hill Gallery in early April, the BD Life was keen to be there on time.

We had been to numerous exhibitions featuring Boni’s art in the past. He had one solo exhibition at the now defunct Art Space in Chiromo run by Wambui Collemore, and countless group shows, like ones he had at the Russian Embassy, another in Lamu at the Peponi Hotel, and many others at Brush tu, first when it initially opened in Buru Buru Phase one and just the trio were exhibiting, and another when the group moved literally across the street and into a house so they could accommodate more up-and-coming artists who wanted to work closely with the troika of Boni, Thuku and Musyoka[ms1].

Boniface Maina’s multimedia art during his solo exhibition at Red Hill Gallery on April 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

The collective was growing so fast that they had to tear down a wall to enlarge the space and accommodate more artists. It was a timely move since a donor had stepped in to enable Brush tu to have art residencies that proved to attract a Pan-African set of artists to come and work for several months at Brush tu.

It’s also when the collective started having monthly Open Houses, where Boni’s art featured alongside a whole new generation of Kenyan painters, sculptors, photographers, and printmakers. It was also when we finally saw women joining the collective, and bringing new perspectives to the group. At every show, one would find Boni taking different approaches to his work.

Most recently, before he went home for many months, Boni introduced us to a new character in his art. He was quite unlike the Smokey character who has never quite revealed himself through his maker, Paul Onditi. But then, it seemed he was meant to walk us through his encounters with dystopic worlds to witness them first-hand with Smokey.

Boniface Maina 3

Boniface Maina’s multimedia art during his solo exhibition at Red Hill Gallery on April 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Boni’s nameless fellow seemed to have a more developed sense of personality and identity. His sole reason for joining Boni’s artistic ‘ecosystem’ seems to be to express Boni’s sense of freedom: freedom to relax, to watch a sunset, or to leap into new realms of the unknown. And while his man seems to be apolitical, blissful despite the dystopic blight many have to face every day, Boni has chosen to peel off the skin of his character, so that his identity could transcend the problems of race, ethnicity, and even age. His man is clothed only in his muscular form.

We expected to find him at Red Hill when Boni’s show opened. He was there and still a representative of the artist’s free spirit. But the show, entitled Delicate Densities seemed to be more about Boni’s experimentations with multimedia.

He had always loved drawing and that is what inspired him to come to Nairobi to attend first, the YMCA National Training Centre followed by another degree in painting and drawing from BIFA, the Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art.

Boniface Maina’s multimedia art during his solo exhibition at Red Hill Gallery on April 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

But now, in this exhibition, Boni outdoes himself, infusing moods and moments into a whole range of materials. He works with everything from bleach and ink on canvas and special watercolor paper. He also works with various paints and brushes on wooden planks on which he also etches. He even takes up carpentry to design and assemble some of his most ambitious works which are more like sculptures than three-dimensional paintings. And while the exhibition also includes a number of works from earlier periods of his artistic evolution, they also reveal just how far Boni has come since he first arrived in Nairobi in the early days of the new millennium.

Ultimately, it’s his ongoing exercise of experimentation and creative curiosity that fuel our own appreciation of Boniface Maina.

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