An interview with The Art of Resilience’s Elias Mung’ora
Lewa Next Gen’s The Art of Resilience will premiere in New York City from September 1–11, 2021 at the High Line Nine in partnership with Montague Contemporary. The exhibition captures the stories and faces of individuals living and working around Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya.
Nairobi-based artist Elias Mung’ora explores the everyday life of citizens through his canvases full of vibrant color. Capturing the chaos and buzz of the bustling city streets pre-pandemic, Mung’ora examines how spaces have been adapted over time and imprints a sense of his subjects’ past lives in his works.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What techniques and subject matters do you work with? How did you come to enter the contemporary art world?
I grew up on a farm in a rural part of Central Kenya. Most of my time was spent exploring and playing outdoors. Part of the fun included drawing — the animals, people, cars, and everything that picked my interest as a subject. I developed a keen sense of observation that has been instrumental to my art making today, and joined the contemporary art world once I moved to Nairobi for school.
Do you have a particular process you go through when beginning a new piece? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I take pictures on the streets of Nairobi and later use these as a starting point for my paintings. A lot of my inspiration comes from observing everyday life around the city. I also find past photographs and documentation of Nairobi to be a great lens with which to look through the years and to track the changes the city has undergone to its present.
What role do you feel the artist plays in society?
I think artists play an important role in reflecting and expressing societal concerns, whether they do this through helping individuals and communities find their voice or by connecting with others through personal work. Art provides a healthy space where a society can reflect on its important matters. To quote The Arts Council England (2014), “Life without the collective resources of our libraries, museums, theatres and galleries, or without the personal expression of literature, music and art, would be static and sterile — no creative arguments about the past, no diverse and stimulating present and no dreams of the future.”
What inspired you to get involved with Next Gen’s art exhibition for Lewa Wildlife Conservancy? Why is this project meaningful to you?
I have been following news of the pandemic and its impact on the tourism industry (and, as a consequence, conservation work) in Kenya. Being part of the exhibition was an opportunity to contribute towards supporting the important work Lewa Conservancy does, as we all hope for better times.
Tell us about your pieces that will be exhibited by Next Gen. What inspired them? What do you hope viewers will take away from them?
The pieces on show will be paintings done from home during the first half of 2021. Painting has been a great refuge for me where I could retreat and imagine a different world. I’ve enjoyed the time spent making the work and I’m hoping viewers will bring a different perspective once the work is out of the studio.
How has COVID impacted your work and have you seen your work shift in the past year?
COVID has changed my working process. My studio has been a space where I could get away from all the gloom and allow myself to get lost in the process of making and painting. As a result, the work is different from work done in previous years.
Through a range of mediums, art can inform and inspire viewers to explore new ideas. How does art — particularly African art — connect viewers with conservation?
I hope art can provide a space for viewers to learn and engage with the continent and to care for its people and environment, as all our futures depend on it.