Eritrean Artist Ermias Ekube: Special portrait exhibition at Kuona

Eritrean Artist Ermias Ekube: Special portrait exhibition at Kuona


By Margaretta wa Gacheru | July 26  2013

Ermias Ekube has only been in Kenya for a year, but in that relatively short span of time, the nomadic Eritrean artist has made a large impact on the Nairobi art world.

But it’s not only because he has had two substantial solo art exhibitions in that time—one at the Alliance Francaise, the other at Talisman in Karen.

Nor is it because he’s also participated in several group shows—one at the Kenya Cultural Centre’s Visual Art Gallery and two at the Village Market where his portrait painting earned him a substantial second prize purse at the Manjano Nairobi County Art Competition.

Nor is it simply because he has run three months’ worth of Saturday morning printmaking workshops at Kuona Trust that Ekube has left an indelible mark on the Nairobi art scene.

All of these events have affected the appeal and popularity of this Addis Ababa-born artist.

But the quality of his art, particularity his approach to portrait painting, definitely has shaped the public’s perception of this gifted painter who will shortly be travelling to Sweden to start a new artistic adventure over the next few months.

Ironically, it is his last and most short-lived one-man exhibition of portraits that, in my view, best sums up the remarkable grace, generosity and artistic gifts of Ekube.

It is ironic because it ought to be an exhibition that lasts for at least a fortnight, if not a month or more, given the content, quality and location of the show. Instead, it opened at Kuona last Friday and ends this Friday.

Ekube takes responsibility for the time frame of this important show. “The Sweden trip was planned long ago, but I hadn’t expected the departure date to be moved forward as quickly as it was,” said the father of three whose children start at new schools in a new country next month.

He humbly agrees with me that it would have been best for this show to run longer since it features almost the entire cast and crew of resident artists and art administrators of Kuona Trust itself.

Never before has anyone taken the time and trouble to focus exclusively on the most important component of Kuona – the artists themselves.

Ekube has been doing portrait painting even before he attended Addis Ababa University’s School of Fine Art and Design.

But he’s never planned such an ambitious portrait series as he devised early this year when he began asking each and every artist and art administrator at Kuona to ‘sit’ for him.

“The idea was to include every one of them,” said Ekube who didn’t get the chance to paint Kuona’s dynamic director Sylvia Gichia as she never seemed to have the time to sit long enough for the artist to at least create a sketch of her.