Naomi Gakunga

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga studied at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Her works are predominantly wall hanging sculptures, created from nontraditional materials- sheet metal and steel wire. Sheet metal, known in Swahili as Mabati, is ubiquitous in Kenya. It is used mainly for roofing materials and walls. Sheet metal is particularly associated with Mabati Women’s Groups of the ‘60s. These grassroots groups organized in order to improve their communities, by upgrading the roofs of their homes using sheet metal.

Naomi observed the success of their efforts, the harvesting of water from the new roofs and the consequent ageing of the material itself. She mirrors these effects in her own artistic process that weathers the surfaces of the materials. She occasionally adds dye to create color and more complex effects. The delicate transformations etched in metal by the effects of weathering, chance and time emphasize an ethereal, transient beauty.

Her art tells stories about the impact of water on women’s lives. Naomi examines how women have confronted the challenge of collecting and managing water resources in underdeveloped countries. She tells their stories of transformation, renewal, and empowerment. Her sculptures reflect, at one and the same time, both the Mabati’s enduring functionality and its fragility. The fragile quality of materials is crucial to how Naomi’s work deals with loss and passage of time. Mabati art is the continuum that connects Naomi and her generation to that earlier generation of Mabati women of the 1960’s.