Lee and Jesko in the Courtyard of Fishbone Art Studio, Lamu, 2012   Nalovi-Willert
Lili Nalovi and Jesko Willert were invited by Lena Bardenhewer and Herbert Menzer, they founded the Lamu Artist in Residence Program in 2010, to spend three months at Fishbone House. This beautiful Swahili mansion is one of five mansions built by Bardenhewer and Menzer, former owners of the restaurant COX in Hamburg.
With the arrival of Lili Nalovi and Jesko Willert, a riot of colour overtakes Fishbone House. Kangas hang from the beams of the makuti roof surrounding the courtyard. These patterned rectangles of cloth slash the surrounding sandy tones of cocoto walls and palm tree trunks with bold strokes of green, yellow, purple, blue…. The space looks like a set, ready for the actors to walk on. In fact, it is a stage of sorts, but one dedicated to the intimate art of portraiture. Jesko and Lili are at work, painting the inhabitants of Lamu in the courtyard of Fishbone House.
The artists chose to improvise a studio here so that people, especially women, could visit without being compromised. “We like to make a scene, and then we like to play with this,” Lili says. Thus the courtyard was turned into an environment that echoed the world outside and reflected the artists’ own predilection for creating moods and stories. “The fabric in the background makes you think again.” Even if the kangas don’t feature in all the portraits, they’re important for the artists as a cue about the larger context in which they were working. It is perhaps this striving to imbue a painting with more than what you might literally see on the canvas that gives the artists’ work its profound, timeless quality. They seek to capture reality not exactly as it appears, but to try and draw out something more essential. (Priya Basil)
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