Timothy Brooke, the artist story teller

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‘The City, Mountain Approaches and Further North’ is a one of a kind exhibition by the legendary Timothy Brooke. The exhibition, which opened on Saturday 29th October, brings out Brooke’s finest works that tell the story of the day to day life of the city, the villages, the jungle and the outside of Kenya. Brooke’s works are not gothic, queer or out of the ordinary; they are, ‘usual’, modern and nostalgic, his art twists into the delicate human cultures like tattoos and out into the mist of human-wildlife conflict.

At 72, Brooke still has an agile mind, a keen eye and creative ooze around him. Born in England, young Brooke would travel to Kenya together with his parents in the then British colony. His love for the wild triggered an epiphany that would later in his young life, see him move back to England to study art and in 1965, where he earned a degree in Fine Arts. After his studies, he exhibited in Europe for a while before returning to Kenya in 1980. Brooke made his mark on the Kenyan art scene as one of the first full time artist, together with the likes of; Elimo Njau, Brush Wanyu, Theresa Musoke among others.

The portraitist also worked with the late Ruth Schaffner of the defunct Watatu Gallery, he speaks fondly of his first curator Schaffner whom he describes as ‘one of a kind’ and one who ‘handled their business well’. However, when asked if he was affected by the collapse of one of Kenya’s leading Gallery which followed Schaffner’s passing, he says, he was not, for he had already moved to One Off gallery headed by Carol Lees another remarkable curator and art Manager. Brooke has since remained a household name in Kenya’s art industry.

An Artist who carries an amazing array of works; ‘Further North’ brings out the cultures of traditional African communities like the Samburu, Maasai, and spills into Ethiopia especially those communities that have remained custodians of many of the cultural practices that were inaccurately regarded as primitive. Works like the ‘Beaded Bride’- an oil on canvas painting brings out the beauty rarely spoken of. The magnificence and innocence in this portrait is unrivaled. Another painting, ‘Body Scar’ unravels the detail that goes into African decoration-which transcends modern day tattoos. It reveals the length to which Brooke goes to so as to capture detail and create a compelling and intriguing story.

‘The City’ on the other hand, has another kind of a story to tell. Brooke strides into Nairobi a former Maasai tuff with knowledge of the two worlds. He creates conflict between the buzzing city life in the modern day and the ever present cattle a stark reminder of what Nairobi used to be. On ‘Langata Cascade’, Brooke shows the chaos created when cattle and vehicles try to use the same road, while with ‘Langata Mitsubishi’ the story is about the animals taking over and the order in chaos reveals the reclamations and the authenticity of Nairobi. However, it is ‘Langata Galleria’ that begs the question of modernity in economy with the sprawling city malls and still the street market place of animals and the resilient search for food in the drought stricken Maasai land that now threatens the aspects of modernity (malls).

The artist efficaciously brings the wild alive on canvas on ‘Mountain Approaches’, while brilliantly opining beauty of the wild and the ever increasing human wildlife conflict on works like ‘Vale of Naru Moru’, ‘The River’, ‘White Grass Plains’ and others. Brooke is of the opinion that the African savanna can still remain virgin if the three perspectives of living are merged into one as his art tells. He believes that the African culture can coexist side to side with the emerging modern trends.

The arrangement and the display at ‘One Off Contemporary Gallery’ is a one compelling story of a life well lived and an Artist story that can transform the present into an idealized future. Timothy Brooke has shown, through the years, a remarkable growth of wisdom and witticism at questioning the modern day chaos and at the same time showing direction.

“Art reports on everyday issues and it is in no way affected with the politics and the corruption.’ Brooke says of the rampant corruption in Kenya and progress of the arts industry.

The exhibition closes on November 22.

You can view Timothy Brooke profile and more of his work at One Off Contemporary Art Gallery

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