One of Kenya's most highly regarded artists, Peterson Kamwathi represents a new generation of East African artists whose practices eschew historical colonial tutelage in favor of exploring societal, cultural, and economic issues that resonate both locally in Kenya and globally.
At first glance, some of Peterson's works call to mind the famous surrealist Renee Magritte, in particular his work Golconda, 1953, in which an army of bourgeois, bowler-capped businessmen fill the canvas floating, mindless drones or specters atop a typical London skyline. However, unlike Magritte's dreamlike and illusionary canvases, Peterson's anonymous characters gather in highly symbolic gestures and spaces - not to question our perception of reality so much as to call out positionality and points of gathering or departure as highly important states of being.
His practice, which has evolved through a prolific sequence of compelling thematic series, features anonymized characters that feature prominently in the foreground in sharp contrast to the highly symbolic backgrounds of each canvas. A self-declared observe, this vantage point affords Kamwathi a unique perspective to capture each "micro social cosmos."
Kamwathi's current series, Noble Savage, tackles themes dealing with self-identity, fragmentation, hierarchy of oppression, and how the individual is part and parcel to the collective. Building on his previous series' exploration of the individual as part of the collective, Noble Savage explores both the status of the individual in the collective - as a fundamental building block - in contrast to the exotification of the collective and romantic primitivism.
Kamwathi was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1980, where he lives and studied, graduating in animation from Shang Tao Media Arts College in 2005. Residencies include the Fountainhead Residency, Miami, Florida (2016) Rijksakademie, Amsterdam (2010), DAK' ART 2010; Art Omi 2009 International Artists Residency, New York (2009); Amnesia Conversations and the Jet-lag experiment project, Nairobi (2008); Thupelo International Artist Workshop, Johannesburg (2006); London Print Studio (2006); Bath Spa University College, England (2006), University of Kentucky, USA (2005); Fontys Academie, Kenya-Holland Exchange, Eindhoven (2003).
Kamwathi has exhibited widely, including Vessels: Constellations & Sediments IV, 50 Golborne, London, UK (2018); National Pavillion of Kenya at the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair, London, UK (2017-2020); Drawing Now, Paris, France (2017); When the Heavens Meet the Earth, The Heong Gallery, Cambridge, UK (2017); Monument to a Vessel, Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town (2015); Positions, Volta Art Fair, New York (2015); Grain de Folie, St. Louis, Dakar, Senegal (2014); Freedom, Nairobi National Museum, Nairobi, Kenya (2013-14); Six Degrees of Separate Nations, The Frost Art Museum, Miami, USA, 2013; Kings and Kinship, Rwanda National Art Gallery, Nyanza, (2013); Freedom, Nairobi National Museum (2013); Hymn For A Republic, Galerie Ernst Hilger, Vienna, (2012); Nairobi: A state of mind, KUB Arena, Vienna (2012); Coca- colonized, Marte Museum, San Salvador (2011); Ordinary Rendition, Iwalewa Haus, Bayreuth, Germany (2011); DAK'ART 2010; Space: Currencies in contemporary African Art, Museum Africa, Johannesburg (2010); Seven Artists One Continent, Ed Cross Fine Art, London (2009); and Africa Now: Emerging talent from a continent on the move, World Bank Headquarters, Washington DC (2008). He printed his first publication, Amnesia Platform IV, in 2007.