ARTLabAfrica Special Projects, 50 Golborne Road, London, 2018
20 November 2018
ARTLabAfrica sits with Kenyan artist Longinos Nagila ahead of his solo presentation at ARTLabAfrica Special Projects in London.
What is your background, where did you study and how did you become an artist?
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. After completing high school I joined the Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts, Nairobi, where I studied drawing, painting and multimedia craft. I started working as an artist from a small space in my house that I turned into a studio. I later joined an artist studio collective in Nairobi where I currently work.
What projects are you working on now?
My current work is dual faced, exploring surfaces, space and light, with the conversations between two-dimensional and three-dimensional surfaces being at the centre of my thought. However, this doesn’t deny it the humanness of art. The work also looks at a person who is constantly upright, ready to move, someone in a constant state of searching.
Your current work marks a stark departure from your previous practice, which was primarily focused on video and the exploration of digital imagery. How have you developed this new series?
Having studied video, with an interest in the history of cinema, lens-based media is a constant medium I am interested in exploring. Although primarily composed with paper, I look at my current work as a digital screen made up of pixels which form the imagery on the paper surfaces. With a television screen, just like a painting you have to be in front of it for you to see what on the surface. With my paper cuts, you have to change your viewing position to be able to perceive the complete image. The images change as you move, turning the viewer into a performer and the artwork into an object that guides the performance within the space. The work therefore lives beyond its surface.
How does your current work comment/is related to global issues? Talk about the works being exhibited in London next week and what you are exploring in this series.
After having focused on what has been termed ‘commentary art’ - exploring migration, consumerism, identity and fashion - I wanted to go back into myself and look at what the term ‘art‘ means according to general definitions and what it means to me as a person. The physical process of cutting the paper to create these works is also a meditative practice for me.
In a world where image production and reproduction happens at the click of a finger and our screens and lives are bombed by images from different social media sources, it becomes difficult to interact with an image for a few minutes because we are constantly urged to move to the next image. This body of work started as geometrical abstract pattern producing exercise, however slowly a figure is beginning to emerge. Homo Erectus or the upright man traversed continents, and it is that freedom of cross continental migration that humans are currently engaging in in a global scale that I am trying to link into with these works. This new series came as a result of many attempts of getting away from traditional painting as a form of artistic expression. With paper I get freedom but also I have to empty my mind and concentrate on the production. The act of using a sharp blade to cut marks on the paper reminds me of body scarification from ancient African tribes that used sharp objects to create marks on the body as a sign of beauty but also a mark of identity.
Share some insights about being an artist in Nairobi, Kenya, and the joys and challenges of working there. What are the opportunities available to you? What is the scene like?
Being an artist in Kenya is a coin with double sides, with an art scene that is growing but with a lack of a well-structured art education and a lack of institutional infrastructure. Young people are finding the internet as a crucially useful source of knowledge and information. We are operating in a squeezed market, mostly relying on foreign collectors, galleries and curators to support our practice as a large Kenyan population still doesn’t consume art. Despite the challenges, there are platforms that are pushing Kenyan art and artists across continental and intercontinental borders through exhibitions and art fairs, connecting us with a global network of cultural producers and helping increase the visibility of our practice amongst our peers.