kenyan life

Paul Onditi (Kenyan, born 1980)
Half Life, 2013

Onditi’s work examines the cyclical nature of human experience and behaviour, encapsulated in the oft touted expression ‘what goes around, comes around’. Typically his work depicts a lonely character called ‘Smokey’ who represents a blank state of mind. The artist works in muted hues using a reductive technique to navigate what he refers to as the dilemma of the human condition.

Onditi has exhibited both in Kenya and internationally including the exhibition ‘Ernst and Young Action’ at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt, 2010. ‘Half Life’ depicts a botched robbery ordeal and contains defaced Kenyan currency.

The work was inspired by the successful Kenyan film, ‘Nairobi Half Life’. It is one of a pair with the other sold in May 2013 at the Bonhams Charity Auction.

Last year my wife and I toured #kenya - no bookings, no reservations, sleeping where the evening found us.
We were welcomed at this Pokot village with song and dance. My wife took a video on her phone of them dancing without a care in the world.
The immense joy on their faces when we showed them the video is a sight we shall treasure for the rest of our lives.
Some day I too hope that I can be happy about the smaller things in life.

Rosemary N Karuga (Kenyan, born 1928)
Untitled, 1990
Paper collage

Auction notes

Karuga was the first Kenyan woman to attend Makerere University in Uganda where she studied from 1950–52. On graduating she struggled to make a living as an artist and her principal profession was teaching. On retirement, she began creating collages that so impressed those who saw them that she gained a profile illustrating books and then exhibiting, particularly in France. Her international reputation grew when she was part of a group show alongside El Anatsui and Ablade Glover at the Studio Museum in New York in1990. She has since featured in many international exhibitions.

Karuga’s technique remains consistent – using coloured paper, scissors and glue to create ingenious, characterful portraits of Kenyan daily life and fables.


I grew up in a village in Kenya. No running water or electricity. Traditionally you were either a farmer or if you were a woman, you’d be married off and that’s how things went. My mom’s generation was the first in the family that got a chance to go to school. She and her siblings were the first ones to get formal jobs. But what I also saw was they were now looked at as the people to provide for the rest of the ones there. As a young person, I certainly loved seeing them help, but sometimes it was helping in a way that was too much. Seeing how hard my mom worked and how many sacrifices she made implanted self-reliance in me because I didn’t want to be a burden to her. I didn’t want her to worry about me. Then if I’m able to help, the more the better. The best way that you can help other people is to stand on your own two feet.

Look at me now, I work at Target. For a guy coming from Kenyan village life, that was never in the realm of possibility. But I’ve been very lucky along the way. I’ve been in the right places where there was somebody there to give me a tip. There was somebody there to encourage me. In many corporations, I don’t see too many people who look like me. But then when I walk out here on Nicollet Mall, I see a lot of kids who would have been just like me, and I’m like, ‘How do I get more of them sitting in my cube doing the types of things I’m doing?’

So I work with a mentoring group through the National Black MBA Association, Twin Cities Chapter. It’s for African-American students in eight through twelfth grades called Leaders of Tomorrow. It’s helping demystify college, professional careers, and healthy relationships for them. People tend to talk themselves out of things when they don’t know much about it. Hearing that if a kid from a village in Kenya could be in Minneapolis working for a Fortune 500 company, maybe they’ve got a leg up. And they can do it even better than I can.

I think a lot of us are very self-limiting, but if there’s somebody you can connect with or relate to, they can help open that door of, ‘This could be a possibility for me. You’re just like me and you’re able to do it? What the heck is preventing me from doing it?’”