By: Dr. Lilac Osanjo
Posted: Feb 27th, 2019

It is worth taking time to consider how art has been used by different artists to express thoughts and ideas yet allow room for viewers to delve deep and find individual understanding. One sterling example of giving the viewer this room is the dancing bird. It is a piece said to have twenty-four birds. The artist put sixteen birds and some viewers see twenty-four while others see just three. Here, the observer adds to the work of art and builds on it bringing messages and communication elements into the work.

According to Gerald Motongi, “art brings people together” and “no country has ever developed without art and cultures.” He works with Kisii stone and other hard materials and says the availability of tools to shape hard materials has made work easier unlike before where the work was very manual and labour intensive. He quit teaching to pursue art full time and is engaged in research. He has followed in the footsteps of Elkana Ongesa and built a name in the global arena of stone carvers. 

Gerald has done many key pieces including one for the 50th Jubilee celebration for Kenya that stands at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi and is carved out of granite from Matuu. The granite is sourced through companies like Athi River Mining Company and High Tech Mining which have mining licenses then the heavy stones are loaded on heavy-duty trucks and transported from source to place of installation. He pays tribute to Jonathan Kingdon, a ceramist, artist and zoologist whose work is inspired by nature. Jonathan calls artists to, “look at nature and what it has done in order to make new products.” 

Elkana Ongesa has sculptures in Sweden, Holland, The United States of America and Nairobi but his all-time biggest piece is “Enyamchera” (1976) which sits outside the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The complete piece weighs 7 tons that was carved from a 15 tonne stone then ferried by special flight to Paris. Today, some of his other great works can be found in Sweden, Holland, United States of America and Nairobi.

Professor Maloba, another famous sculptor from Kenya did the Two hands sculpture at Central Bank building in Nairobi, the woman at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi and the independence monument in Kampala, Uganda.

There are records of sculpture masters with global recognition but there is an urgent need to raise a new generation of artists who will take the skill of sculpture to a new height that demands greater understanding and interpretation. 


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Dr. Lilac Osanjo is well known in the design fraternity as a career designer, educator and leading design visionary. She sets the bar high and continually raises it by using design to communicate possibilities through papers, articles, and exhibitions on design for health, agriculture, renewable energy systems and sustainable livelihoods in Africa. She is the Director of School of The Arts and Design, University of Nairobi and founding member of the Design Kenya Society, the Network of Afrika Designers (NAD) and Afrika Design Forum.