Expressing the riot within


Artist Chemutai Ng’ok talking an audience through an earlier exhibition in 2016 featuring the same collection. Photo by: Callan Grecia.
Chemutai Ng’ok’s exhibition featured a 10 meter painting she calls “Death of Ideas/Funeral procession” at the Albany Art History in Grahamstown. Photo by: Lebogang Tlou

RISING star in the art world, Grahamstown artist Chemutai Ng’ok unveiled her latest exhibition last week, entitled The Riot Exhibition, comprising a two year body of work towards her masters’ degree in art.

Ng’ok has in these years garnered a lot of local and international acclaim, her career expanding when she was selected to be featured at the Contemporary African Art Fair in New York in 2015.

Her body of work has been exhibited at a number of art fairs, including the Johannesburg Art Fair. Ng’ok’s paintings have furthermore been nominated twice at the Emerging Painters Award at the Turbine Art Fair.

The Riot Exhibition was hosted at two different venues in Grahamstown – the first half was presented at the Albany History Museum, and the procession filtered into the Rhodes University Art School Fine Art building’s gallery foyer.

Painting in oil on canvas, Ng’ok’s pieces, both portraits and large murals, enchantingly invoke feelings of being swallowed by a sea of humans.

Described by painter Nigel Mullins as “psychological portraits”, Ng’ok paints her canvas black from the onset, and draws characters and figures out from the dark.

“That is a theme that runs all the way, through all of her work,” said Mullins, who curated the exhibition.

“She literally starts from what I imagine to be a dark interior, the psychological state that we all have within us” Mullins said.

The Death of Ideals was Ng’ok’s largest mural, stretching for 10m. While painting this piece, Ng’ok could only see sections of the painting at a time. The theme of death is one many artists touch on. An interpretation of The Death of Ideals is offered by Mullins.

“Chemu thinks of death in a very complex manner,” Mullins said. “It can be very literal in the sense that the death of an individual may spark an uprising, [or] it could be that the riot – or uprising caused the death of an individual.

“It could be a metaphorical death of ideals; it could be the death of something within yourself, like a psychological transition within yourself.”

One can liken viewing the Death of Ideals mural to viewing a film reel, essentially; one which carries the procession of life from one end of the world (an exhibition room) to another.

“I’m happy, excited!” said a jubilant Ng’ok, on the opportunity to share two years of her life in work with art lovers and friends.

“Thank you to everyone who came to my master’s exhibition and supported me in making it happen, including those who couldn’t make it but were there in spirit,” she said.

“I feel so so much love and very grounded in your support! It’s been a long tough road, I wouldn’t have made it without you.”

Ng’ok, who is originally from Nairobi, Kenya, moved to Grahamstown six years ago to pursue a bachelor of arts degree at Rhodes University. She stayed to complete her master of fine arts, forging a long-lasting identity for herself within the community.

She will be having her first solo exhibition in Cape Town later this year.


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