MALIZA KIASUWA featured in Nation and allAfrica

28 Jun

Kenya: Artist Takes Pride in Her Ancestry

By Margaretta Wa Gacheru

Having transformed a hay-filled barn into a giant home studio, Malisa Kiasuwa has been working throughout the Covid-19 lockdown preparing for two exhibitions currently underway overseas. One is in Washington, DC, while the other is in London.

Both sharing the theme, The Pride of Origins, the Naivasha-based Malisa has previously exhibited in Nairobi at Circle Art Gallery and at Alliance Francaise. But Amy Morton of the Morton Fine Art Gallery in Washington found Malisa on Instagram, the social medium currently accommodating many local fine artists.

Nonetheless, while visiting Kenya in 2019, Morton found her way to Circle Art where she got an even better impression of Malisa’s organically-based artistry.

“Amy was and still is interested in featuring contemporary African art at her gallery, which is how she got to know me,” says the Belgian-Congolese artist whose 21 collages and wall hangings featured in her first solo show in DC from June 2to 22.

Soulful spotlight

Meanwhile, another 16 of Malisa’s collages are featuring now at the Sulger-Buel Gallery in London, where the artist has set her soulful spotlight on not just the Pride of Origins but specifically on the notion of ancestry.

Malisa works with an array of mixed media, including organic materials like raffia grass, sisal rope, handmade papers, scraps of fabric, and threads made out of cotton and silk, silver and gold. She blends them with found objects that she collects during her frequent walks around the lake and Naivasha town.

The upcycling of found objects appeal to the artist’s concern for conservation. Her use of organic materials reflects her desire to stay close to the purity of nature. But during the lockdown, Malisa reflected upon all the many clashing contradictions festering in the world, including the ‘virus of racism’ and the coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of white supremacy.

An example of reconciliation

She desires to see the reconciliation of these extremes, a coming together of disparate elements in the name of peace.

“I see myself as an example of reconciliation since my background is both European and African,” says Malisa.

In a sense, both exhibitions are about Identity, reconciliation, and ‘the pride of origins’. These themes are symbolised most visibly in her London show where she includes collages that combine engraved portraits of 18th-century European aristocrats upon whose faces Malisa has affixed wooden West African masks (the kind that enthralled Western artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse).

“I found the engravings of my [Swiss] husband’s ancestors in an attic of his family’s home,” says Malisa who saw the etchings had been forgotten, so she brought them back to Kenya where she and her family have been living since 2013.

Treating them like the other ‘found objects’ that she uses to upcycle into her art, the masks superimposed on the faces of these bourgeois white men are meant to symbolize what reconciliation might look like. Yet the juxtaposition of the two-dimensional etchings and the three-dimensional masks could also be interpreted in other ways, either to amuse or to annoy.

There’s an irony of her embellishing the men’s portraits with African masks which had once been used in sacred rituals and infused with mystical powers. At the same time, Western aristocrats are not the only ‘nobility’ in the London show.

Malisa herself comes from West African nobility. “My father’s ‘tribe’ is Ndongo, the same one as Queen Zinga [or Nzinga] of Congo,” she recalls. Noting that Zinga was renowned for her military and diplomatic leadership which is credited for fending off Portuguese colonialism and slave trade for over 30 years.

Zinga is often identified as coming from Angola, but Malisa explains the Ndongo kingdom, before the colonial carving up of Africa in the 19th century, traversed northern Angola as well as southern Congo.

“Our people had lived on the border of what is now Congo,” says Malisa, adding that she wants her children to take pride in their shared ancestry.

In both exhibitions, there is at least one explicitly autobiographic collage featuring a mug shot of the artist wearing a crown, either made of hand-made paper or animal skin. As if enthroned in her exhibition just as Queen Zinga headed her vast kingdom, the letter ‘Z’ is emblazoned on each crown, standing at once for Zinga and for Zaire, which was the name of her country at the time that she was born.

Read the original article on Nation.

Available artwork by MALIZA KIASUWA

Morton Fine Art, 52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC 20001 USA



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MALIZA KIASUWA featured in Business Daily

3 Jun

Artist’s wall hanging get space in UK, US galleries

FRIDAY MAY 28 2021


Coincidentally, Maliza Kiasuwa has two solo exhibitions going on simultaneously, one in London, the other in Washington DC. Meanwhile, she still has her art at Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi where the curator of Morton Fine Art Gallery, Amy Morton is giving the Belgian-Congolese artist her first Washington DC solo show from June 2 to 22.

“Amy found my work first on Instagram, which led her to Circle Art,” recalls Maliza who has had shows at Circle gallery and Alliance Francaise since she first came to Kenya with her family in early 2013.

Speaking from her farm in Naivasha where she has been fortunate to live through the Covid-19 lockdown amidst the quiet of nature, Maliza says she has pondered many things this past year, everything from the virus, racism, to pandemic fears.

The result has been a rich outpouring of artworks, 16 of which are in London at her Ancestry exhibition at the Sulger-Buel Gallery, and 21 in the Morton Gallery in DC.

“Both are entitled ‘The Pride of Origin’ but the London show focuses more on our ‘Ancestry’, while the DC exhibition is slightly more abstract,” says the artist.

The shows have a great deal in common. Both use materials that are either recycled, organic, or handmade like the Washi paper from Japan and the homemade paper that she has made herself.

And both reflect the issue of identity in ways that compel us to consider how clashing cultures, customs, convictions, and even colours can be reconciled.

“Coming from a mixed background myself, I want my children to be proud of their ancestry, their identity,” says Maliza who admits she does not classify herself as either/or European or African, since she is both.

Seeing herself as essentially an embodiment of reconciliation, she hopes that by stitching, weaving, and blending contrasting elements, her art can reveal the beauty of merger.

Yet her two exhibitions are quite different despite their shared theme, use of mixed media and mutual forms are given that most of the works are collages.

Nonetheless, she also has several three-dimensional pieces in Washington. They include her kimono-like wall-hanging entitled ‘Imperfections’, made with Washi and handmade papers, gold threads, and assorted stitched fabrics.

I found the London show both ironic and amusing while her Washington DC one is more cerebral, organic, and abstract. What is marvellous about many of the pieces up at Sulger-Buel until mid-June is the self-mockery of works like ‘The Proud of Origins Collection I and III.’

Both pieces feature engraved portraits of her Swiss spouse’s distant relations that she found in a family attic and brought back to Africa like other ‘found objects’ she picks up during her walks around Lake Naivasha and then employs in her art.

Maliza Kiasuwa’s ‘Imperfections’ artwork at the Morton Art Gallery in Washington DC, on June 2, 2021. PHOTO | POOL

It was on top of these 18th Century images that Maliza superimposes West African masks. It is as if she is making good fun not just with her people but with European colonial culture that she feels has to embrace or at least accept the reality of African culture, whether they like it or not.

The other evidence that Maliza intends for her art to make a power statement about the equal footing that African and European cultures share is contained in her two self-portraits, one in either show.

Both blend black and white fabrics, although in London she weaves in more tweed while in Washington DC she uses more hessian.

But both use the same photograph, the artist’s mug shot, looking quite stern. The big difference is the crown worn by this dreadlocked lady on which is her regal logo, Z, short for Zaire, her original African homeland.

One might have expected the artist to be at the London exhibition. But after placing African masks (the kind Picasso and Matisse adored) over those European faces, the sensibility of her show might have shifted from being ironic and witty to abusive and easily misunderstood.

The London show has several self-portraits of Maliza although they are understated with Africanised ‘crowns’ made of animal skin or plastic fishnet mesh mixed with organic fabrics.

The handmade and the manufactured stand side-by-side in Maliza’s art. Be it black and white, realistic and abstract, dynastic and libertarian; or even bourgeois and peasant, in Maliza’s world, the time for reconciliation has come, not through wars but art.

Available Artwork by MALIZA KIASUWA