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In-Between at The Lab, Nairobi, Kenya


2 February 2018

ARTLabAfrica sat down with Kenyan artist Lemek Tompoika ahead of his pop-up show, In-Between, being held at The Lab this weekend.

Where are you from?

I grew up in a small Masai village called Nkaimurunya in Ngong, close to Nairobi. As a child it was very rural and remote. I grew up surrounded by a very big family, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins...we are all very close. Now I live and work in Nairobi. 


How has your environment and upbringing affected your artistic practice?

I am influenced by my Masai culture. I was brought up experiencing both modern and traditional values and I try to investigate that in my work. You never know where you're going until you know where you've come from! I was very shy as a child and started to use drawing as a way to express myself when I was home. It became a very personal process. I would draw on any kind of paper i could find, including old newspapers which have now become a medium I frequently work with. I have more of an emotional connection with paper as a material as it gives me the privacy I remember as a child. I also remember looking forward to the beginning of January each year when I could use our old home calendars, however unlike newspapers, I have yet to incorporate this into my work. We’ll see!


At school I never enjoyed art as a subject, and much preferred the freedom of drawing at home. After leaving High School, my father sent me to Nairobi to study at a creative arts centre for 6 months. It was here that I remember coming across a book of figurative drawings and discovering this amazing reclining figure. I was mesmerized by it. I copied it, again and again, and have been fascinated with the human form ever since. You’ll see this in my practice where I experiment with figures and different mediums.


What are you presenting in The Lab space this coming weekend?

It’s a pop-up exhibition titled In-Between that presents my current works alongside previous works not exhibited in Kenya before. It shows the transition from my earlier politically influenced drawings to more personal topics and themes - looking deep into myself and exploring my own emotions and feelings. Art is continuing to become much more personal for me and this exhibition explores a two year journey of how my artwork and its themes have developed.


Talk a little about the mediums you are using.

My earlier body of work questions contemporary media through the use of newspapers. Using charcoal and pastel, I erase or enhance the images, integrate the headlines and look to the newspaper as an object living with intention being used to influence its readers. With my new works I continue to work with pastel but also digital prints on drawing paper. Combining various images of symbols and signs I have built digital patterns, transferred them onto drawing paper and created pastel figures over the top. Here I am starting to look at who I am and where I am in contrast to any outwards observation.


If you weren’t an artist what would you be?

A chef! I actually studied Culinary Arts at the Kenya Utalii College for 2 years before trying it as a career. I soon realized that the creative freedom I desired did not come easy and so found myself back at the drawing board and starting to work with pastels. From the moment I bought my first box of twelve I was hooked. I started doing commissions for friends and knew I wanted to continue drawing.


What’s next for you?

I am planning a solo show later this year whilst also in the middle of applying for residences abroad in order to get out of my environment and experience different cultures, so we’ll see what happens! I’m also looking to work on a project with a fellow Kenyan artist here in Nairobi which we’ve been talking about for a long time now.

Lemek Tompoika in his studio in Nairobi, Kenya
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