Artists for Africa: painters, musicians, performers, poetesses tell of a society full of contradictions

Laura Salvinelli, Elle Magazine

Beatrice Wanjiku (pictured above) is one of Kenya's best known painters. She was born in 1978 and has a large studio in the Ngong Hills so loved by Karen Blixen, where I meet her. She has never married, had no children and lives happily surrounded by cats and dogs. He exhibits in Africa, Europe and the United States. She had exceptional parents, who encouraged her to make painting her profession. 


«Art is innate in me», she tells me, «as a child I always scribbled on the walls and I was fascinated by paintings. Growing up I studied it and started working with painting. The Mortality series marked a turning point: processing pain on canvasof the loss of the most important person in my life, my mother, I found my style. I don't paint just to paint, there is always a personal story or a story linked to the context in which I live that inspires my work. In my works I talk about issues that concern me as a woman: I started by making self-portraits to get to know myself better, then I produced the series of Straitjackets on the constraints imposed by the patriarchal world.


Recently, I worked on a case of violence against a woman whose hands were cut off by her husband because according to him he was "guilty" of not giving him children, but one must also in a sense separate from one's self to tell a story that touches all as human beings, which is why I paint faces and bodies neither male nor female. 


My work seems violent, but in reality it is full of hope for a change, perhaps in the utopia of a better world. However chaotic the outside world is, I always imagine the possibility of making a better version of oneself ». Her magnificent drawings on paper are studies that will be transferred with mixed media on canvas. The bodies are reminiscent of Michelangelo and Goya. They are physical, made of flesh, blood, muscles and internal organs, and also psychic, with emptiness, loneliness and madness: «Each of my works begins with the shape of the body, from which I try to extract the soul in an attempt to understand our reality as human beings». 


Her atelier looks like a huge womb, where the mystery of life is represented, violent and wonderful. From the open door together with the light, the voices of a reassuring nature enter: the singing of birds and the festive barking of dogs.