Kaloki Nyamai, born in 1985 in Kitui, Kenya, lives and works in Nairobi. His first inspirations were his mother, who worked in fashion, and his grand-mother, who was a musician. It is his mother who first taught him how to draw and his grand-mother who would recount the stories history books do not tell. Drawing heavily on the stories of the Kamba people he was told by his grand-mother, Nyamai – a multidisciplinary artist who studied interior design, film and taught art classes before dedicating himself to his craft – explores how history and identity are intertwined. His works are multimedia and characterized by rich layers, offering fragments to be pieced together slowly. The lengthy, searching process employed in the making of the works is mirrored in the experience of viewing them. His work as been presented in fairs and exhibitions in Africa and Europe. In 2018, he participated in the third edition of the Kampala Biennale, curated by Simon Njami, with a monumental installation.
His painting practice entwines material investigation with a wide-reaching exploration of subject matter. Grounded in hidden narratives, uneasy stories of identity, environment and memory, offering fragments to be pieced together slowly. The lengthy, searching process employed in the making of the works is mirrored in the experience of viewing them. In early works the artist documented the slum settlement that he grew up in. These charcoal pieces are intended to capture a space in flux, to preserve an impression of these fragile sites. But they were also about adding complexity to widely held perceptions of such environments. His work has developed a lot since these pieces, Kaloki’s subject remains closely connected. Nyamai explores the parallels between the past and the present through richly-layered, multimedia works. Drawing heavily on the stories of the Kamba people, the works explore how history and identity are intertwined and how this has informed the identities of people living in present day, post-colonial Kenya.
'I think of my work as an open, multilayered conversation through which I question identity and how the tensions between past, present and future affect the way we are perceived and perceive ourselves to be. By layering and experimenting with different mediums, people, animals and abstract forms are revealed, working as symbols that help us look beyond the History we are taught in school, to the rich, often contradictory history made up of the stories of our ancestors shared directly, generation after generation, that took place before and without colonialism. It is only within and through these stories that we can begin the process of layering and texturing the flat identities provided to us by an education burdened by colonialism and its legacy.' - Kaloki Nyamai