Monday, May 7, 2012

Elimo Njau, Master of Canvas & Clay

Artiste: Elimo Njau

As a man who ranks among Africa greatest artists, Njau is truly the father of art in East Africa. His work on display in Paa ya Paa Art Centre describes his mastery as a sculptor, painter, muralist as well as a poet. He’s credited with being the first African artist to exhibit in London. At age 80, he can still be found at his centre giving tips to upcoming artists.
Elimo and his wife

Do not copy. Copying puts God to sleep”
His favourite maxim
At a young age, his blossoming talent was noticed by church elders who offered him his first platform to display his art. Njau was given a chance to make illustrations for Sunday school lessons and from then he never looked back. He later attained a degree in Fine Arts and History of Art at the Margaret Trowell School of Fine Arts, Makerere University. 
From 1959-62, he was back in Makerere as a lecturer at the faculty of Fine Arts. When he came back to Kenya, he associated himself with other artists and writers; Jonathan Kariara, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Okot P’Bitek, Hillary Ng’weno and Taban lo Liong. In 1964, he co-founded ChemiChemi Creative Arts Centre with Ezekiel Mphalele.
In 1965, together with his wife Phillda (the current archivist and curator) they founded the legendary Paa ya Paa Arts Centre (on Ridgeways Road off Kiambu Road). Paa ya Paa, Swahili for The antelope rises’ is a world-class exhibition that has offered artists from all over a chance to showcase their works since 1965. 

One of the artworks on display includes a beaded portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner, late Wangari Maathai by Kibacia Gatu. The gallery has managed to attract many high-ranking personalities, notably the 39th President of the United States Jimmy Carter.
In 1997, he experienced a setback when a fire gutted down his premises but he emerged stronger with a renovated open-air gallery. The grounds held the recent Black History Month exhibition themed: Celebrating the daughters of Africa.
He was also a contributor to a weekly column in the Nation newspaper.
His famous works include five fresco murals (made of egg tempera) depicting the life of Christ found at the Anglican Cathedral in Murang’a.
His biography ‘The Antelope Rises: Elimo Njau, East African Artist’ was authored by Louise Crane.

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