This week we unveil the story of the work of art Tales from Lamu to Timbuktu by artist Evans Mbugua and take you on a discovery of an archipelago off the Kenyan coast in search of the ancestral traditions of an entire population and, beyond that, those of the African continent.
Whether it is his family or strangers, each of the characters that the artist Evans Mbugua represents in his works has crossed his path one day. If behind each of his representations is a story, the viewer is also free to imagine the tale ...
And you, what do you imagine behind the red beard and the sunglasses?
Evans Mbugua was born in Nairobi where he attended all his schooling before moving to France to pursue graduate studies in graphic design. He is known for his pointillist paintings that play with light and his numerous collaborations, the latest of which saw him working with the haute joaillerie house Chaumet.
For someone who lives in the city, the young Evans takes comfort in the civilization classes at school, in which one name keeps coming up: Lamu.
In his childhood mind, Lamu, the capital city of an archipelago of the same name that stretches off the Kenyan coast, seems like a lost paradise. There, traditions are alive and are perpetuated from generation to generation fitting exactly with the needs of our modern times.
However, time has slowed down there and concerns are brought back to the essentials.
Harmed by its proximity to Somalia, the Lamu archipelago appears to be unsafe to the neophytes and, although it is very close to the coast, only a few Kenyans go there.
When he arrived in France, the artist never stops thinking about Lamu, the image he has of it, the traditions and knowledge it conveys. This knowledge that he links to the whole of Africa and of which Timbuktu is the personification.
Lamu – Timbuktu : The tale begins
Having decided to discover the dreamed archipelago, Evans Mbugua decided to go there for the first time in 2018 for a few days.
Inside the islands, we move on foot or on the back of a donkey. From one island to another, it is the boat that is ensuring the connections. These are the same boats that was formerly used to travel to Zanzibar, in the far south, for economic purposes.
Evans sails from one island to another. Evans listens. He learns from the stories of the elders and gets to know their traditions, as regards to clothing, culinary practices or culture.
It is during one of these cruises that the artist meets Omar, Master mariner of the Indian Ocean, always with the sunglasses on and his red beard in the wind.
The movement of the boats is slow and Evans listens to the chatty sailor as he steers the vessel. That's how he learns that Omar is carrying on the tradition by dyeing his beard and hair with henna as his parents and grandparents did before him. Evans finds him very modern, in perfect harmony with his history and his life.
Every time he travels to Lamu, Evans finds him again with new stories to tell.
"When a man dies, it's a library that disappears. This painting is a tribute to knowledge and tradition that tends to disappear", the artist tells us.
Through this work, Evans imagines a journey from Lamu to Timbuktu, "the pearl of the desert", a historic city classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a Mecca of knowledge, now threatened. He imagines a journey where Omar would continue to tell stories and feed us with his tale.
Through this work, the artist affirms that ancestral knowledge evolves with the present and that tradition and the contemporary world can live in harmony. For him, Lamu is the proof of this belief and Omar its personification.
Know more about the artist
Autres oeuvres de l'artiste
Evans Mbugua, Je Ne Veux Pas Être Courageuse. Je Veux Être Libre !, 2020
Evans Mbugua, Je t'ai à l'œil, 2019
Evans Mbugua, Buy me a Ferrari, 2018
Evans Mbugua, Marching, 2017