Artist Spotlight: Beatrice Wanjiku

June 21, 2022
Artist Spotlight: Beatrice Wanjiku

One of the many highlights of Unsettled that you want to come discover in person is the completely darkened room we created to show three visceral works by one of my favorite African artists.

Beatrice Wanjiku (b. 1978, Kenya) is one of the foremost Kenyan painters of her generation. For UNSETTLED she has created four new uncompromising works that waver between figuration and abstraction with a provocative rawness. Wanjiku’s investigations into the human psyche result in captivating, haunting works that touch everyone.

In her practice Wanjiku examines the times we are living in. With ambiguous feelings, she senses the world is in a phase of self-combustion. Moved by social and political situations, both on a local as global level, her works interrogate their unsettling impact on our lives. Her paintings are not political, but reflect on our journey as human beings, and how we are forced to constantly adapt to navigate our social spaces. Wanjiku’s paintings scrutinize the human experience, functioning as a mirror of who we are.



Portrait of the artist.


Exploring the ‘condition humaine’, Wanjiku displays who we are as human beings, in our genuine entirety. While being masters of our own destiny, she visualizes the duality of our inner selves, constantly battling between choices in a process of doubt while trying to reinvent ourselves. Wanjiku is inspired by the shared experience of the multifaceted persons we are, ever-changing and evolving. The motif of the gaping mouth, omnipresent in many of her paintings, is a metaphor for this constant and consuming search that alters us; it is an insatiable abyss. Wanjiku’s portraits deliberately have a certain abstractness, not wanting to portray identifiable persons so they can function as a mirror to each. In the unsettling confrontation with her works, the viewer is challenged to re-evaluate oneself.



Beatrice Wanjiku, "The strangeness of my madness VI". Mixed media on canvas. 160 x 133 cm


With her paintings Wanjiku expresses something that’s within. She is on an elusive quest to figure out how our internal functions, trying to represent our inner selves by peeling away the layers of constituted social norms. Wanjiku goes straight to the core of our being. She bypasses the superficialities and dives into the common features of being human, like bones, blood, veins and other guts. She wants to show the backbone of our human existence. While painting the physicality of the human body, it is our mental interiors she is trying to capture.



A prominent visual element in the featured works is her anatomical deconstruction of the human body, especially the ribcage, protecting the body’s essential’s guts. For Wanjiku, human bodies are a metaphor for our mental frame of reference. Her art has a larger, more universal message – as our human condition it is shared by all, notwithstanding physical differences in skin color, gender, or age. Wanjiku prefers to work with darkened hues, building up her portraits with a layering of flesh tones and shades of dark blue. The final layer is so thin it becomes see-through. Underneath, a brightness of red hues emerges from a womb like shape – suggesting re-birth. The womb suggests a reclaiming of a life and hope, filled with energy and power. Pregnant of possibilities, her paintings are metaphors for new beginnings, a rebirth within oneself. To peer into a painting of Wanjiku is to lose yourself in questions of being, of belonging and of existence.



Beatrice Wanjiku, "Resume your flesh and form XI". Mixed media on canvas. 150 x 100 cm


Beatrice Wanjiku lives and works in Nairobi. She studied at the Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts from which she graduated in 2000. In 2017 she was part of the exhibition “Personal Structures: Open Borders”, organized by the European Cultural Centre during the 57th Venice Biennale. Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally. She had solo shows in Nairobi such as “Mourning a Memory” (2018), and “A Wild Infection of the Wildly Shaken Public Mind” (2021), and was one of the five artists selected for the group show “Kesho Kutwa” at the Nairobi National Museum in 2021. Wanjiku has been exhibited at international art fairs such a 1:54 NY (2016), VOLTA NY (2017), and Expo Chicago (2022).



As it is very hard to capture the depth and intensity of Wanjiku's work I gladly FaceTime you to present them virtually.

About the author

Bruno Claessens

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