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Exhibitions at the Commonwealth Institute

Article relating to a gallery, 1973
Published by: African Arts magazine
Year published: 1973
Number of pages: 4

image of Exhibitions at the Commonwealth Institute

A piece titled Exhibitions at the Commonwealth Institute appeared in the Winter 1973 issue of African Arts magazine (Volume VI, Number 2). The piece was written by South African-born artist Denis Bowen. The text opened, “During the course of any twelve months or so the program of exhibitions organized by the Commonwealth Art Gallery in London invariably provides some opportunities to study the work of contemporary African artists. The 1972 program included exhibitions of paintings by Yusuf Grillo of Nigeria and of wood carvings by Mwariko Omari of Tanzania.” This was in effect a review of these two artists’ work.

Of Gillo, Bowen wrote, “Grillo showed some thirty oil paintings, the earliest of 1965, and the selection was equally balanced between earlier and more recent works. The exhibition was therefore an opportunity for comparisons. A number of the early works are very subdued in tone and so limited in color that the figures are no more than ghost-like. Scumbling, thick paint dragged over drying areas, is resorted to and conveys the lighter areas and changes in plane. In these works shapes and modeling are simplified; areas are defined by straight lines implying articulation from the edges of the canvas.”

Of Omari, Bowen wrote, “In the Mwariko Omari exhibition we were confronted by work of marked contrast to that of Grillo, a sharp reminder that Africa is a continent, a mosaic of differreent peoples and cultures. Omari is of the Zigua tribe of Tanzania. His grandfather is a chief who had fifteen wives and seventy-five children of whom one was Mwariko’s father. He himself is one of eight children, and he is now twenty-seven years of age; his schooling was rudimentary but he learned to read and write Swahili and in addition speaks several other related languages. His English, largely self-taught, is good. While no more than a boy he became associated with Elimo Njau in Nairobi at the Chem-Chem Cultural Centre and later moved to Moshi with him to form another gallery. In 1964 he established his own gallery, which was wiped out by fire in 1970. To say that Omari is energetic and enterprising is an understatement: already his home and studio are rebuilt and he has students drawing, painting and carving under his direction.”

The Bowen piece was accompanied by two reproductions of Omari’s carvings. Woman with a Pot, 71” and Mother Feeding her Child, Wood, 45” Collection of Mr. Derek Ingram, London, and three reproductions  of work by Grillo, one of which was a full-page colour reproduction. Drummer’s Fag, 1971. oil on board, 48 x 30”, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Caws, London; The Flight, 1972, oil on canvas, 48 x 48”; the colour work was The Drummer’s Return, oil on canvas.

Related people

»  Denis Bowen

Born, 1921 in Kimberley, South Africa. Died, 2006

»  Yusuf Grillo

Born, 1934 in Lagos, Nigeria