in New York, NY / United States
28.03.2024 - 04.05.2024 00:00
Kaloki Nyamai - Twe Vaa

James Cohan is pleased to present “Twe Vaa”, an exhibition of mixed media paintings by Kenyan artist Kaloki Nyamai. This marks the artist’s New York debut and first solo exhibition with the gallery.

‘Twe Vaa’ means “We are here” in the artist’s ancestral language of Kikamba. The phrase signifies a declaration of presence, a reclamation of a collective agency. Nyamai questions where it is that society has landed in turbulent times. In the ten intricately layered paintings from Nyamai’s ongoing series “Dining in Chaos”, he draws inspiration from life in Nairobi, weaving collective memories that emerge and recede from legibility. His paintings are composites of multiple canvases and materials, literally stitching together the fabric of a community scarred by the legacy of colonization.

In each work, Nyamai juxtaposes news accounts of political unrest with depictions of people at leisure, allowing multiple narratives to unfold simultaneously. He photo-transfers newsprint and images capturing pivotal and often violent moments in Kenyan history and other parts of Africa directly onto the surface of his paintings; binding the past and the present. These figures fade in and out of view, much like a memory, revealing themselves through layers of paper and paint.

His interest lies in generating dichotomous worlds, where play and moments of respite can take shape even in the midst of chaos. Silhouetted figures are rendered mid-action, engaged in everyday communal activities – dancing, swimming, embracing, and gathering for a meal. They are illuminated in vivid shades of color, materializing from a mixture of dense acrylic paint, sisal rope, and burnt rubber yarn. The artist suggests, “We started from where we began” as a framework for reading his paintings, recalling the cyclical nature of history.

Ultimately, Nyamai’s paintings act as tokens of remembrance, emphasizing that our present is inextricably linked to our shared past. We bear witness to post-election protests in the 1960s and 70s, when Kenya had just overthrown British colonial rule and was attempting to regain its cultural footing. In the artist’s words: “We are here now; we have arrived. How do we move on from here?”

Kaloki Nyamai (b. 1985, Kitui, Kenya) pursued formal training at the BiFa Institute of Fine Arts in Nairobi, Kenya.

Gallery hours Tues-Sat 10 am – 6 pm

Exhibition Duration 28 March – 04 May 2024


James Cohan Gallery
48 Walker Street
10013 New York, NY
United States


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