“As Far As I Can See”
AS FAR AS EYE CAN SEE
Magnificent in appearance, bizarre in form, unique in gait, colossal in height and inoffensive in character. The giraffe is indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa.
The giraffe is the tallest living animal, uniquely adapted to reach vegetation from treetops (mainly Acacias) and to look out for any oncoming dangers, unlike other animals who look for camouflage. The females are about 14 feet tall, males 18 feet and calves 6 feet when born.
Necking contests (swinging heads at one another in tests of strength) between males establishes dominance and rights of access to sexually receptive females.
Mothers and their young ones remain in stable groups (whilst males move in between herds) and it is one I have created on the canvas. Distinctive coat patterns differentiate the species. This species, the “Maasai Giraffe” is found only in Kenya and Tanzania. They have a distinctive irregular, jagged, star-like blotches which extend into the hooves and face, but gradually getting smaller. These are close to extinction as they are widely hunted for their coats and meat.
I was fascinated by every part of this animal’s structure. Each individual has a unique coat pattern. They have a distinctive walking gait, moving both right legs forward and then both left. When galloping, however, they simultaneously swing the hind legs ahead of and outside the front legs. The neck acts as a gear which keeps the momentum.
This is my first giraffe painting and definitely won’t be the last one. I have experimented with different textures and techniques and no two giraffes are galloping in the same way.
Cows nurture us for life. They provide milk, meat, leather, transport, fertiliser, and fuel. Cattle have long been considered a measure of wealth (food currency and pride) across Africa. The passing of centuries seems to have changed little in the ebb and flow of life for herders across the Continent, whose cattle have been a bank account. But many of Africa’s cattle breeds are at a risk of extinction. Diversity of landscape defines each unique breed.
Titian, Rembrandt, Van Gogh all painted cows. In the 19th Century, they came to represent a longing for a pre-industrial era. The Dutch painted them to show pride in the dairy industry (perhaps similar to cattle paintings in Texas). In the early 19th century, demand for pictures of prized farm animals, principally large, awkward-looking cows was at a fervor. This demand was more than enough reason to paint them.
The cows in I have painted look like movie stars. It was like a happy accident to paint this subject. If you try, you may come to realize how hard a cow is to paint (or draw). It looks curved, but it’s kind of square. It stands or sits in seemingly uncomfortable positions. I will never see a cow in the same way I did before.
In this painting embarked on a new technique of painting, with a painting knife. This has resulted in a cocktail of colours, but realistic forms. When you see a cow in this painting, no matter which position it is in, it’s looking at you.
WHITE RHINO HEAVEN
The rhino is one of the big five animals of Africa. In Africa, there are two species of the rhino, the black rhino and the white rhinoceros. The white rhino’s name comes from the Afrikaans word “weit”, which means wide and refers to the animal’s muzzle and was mistakenly understood to be white rhino. The white rhino has a square lip which distinguishes it from the black rhino that has a pointed lip.
The white rhino has two horns. Despite its name, the rhino is light grey in colour. The white rhinos often live in groups (unlike the black rhinos who are normally solitary), which can range from any number up to about ten. They feed on grass and leaves. There are two sub-species of the white rhino – the northern and the southern white rhino. There are only 2 northern white rhinos left in the whole world today.
They have no natural predators due to their size. Humans however can be a predator to these beautiful creatures, by illegal hunting and poaching for their horn which is used for traditional medicine.
The rhinos in this painting are the southern white rhinos which are highly endangered and have been a protected species for many years. But you are almost certain to see a few in the Nairobi National Park. It is the only protected area in the world that touches a capital city. These were captured on our regular trips to this Park.
Nairobi National Park is one of the best places in the world to observe these grazers and
browsers in the wild.
Almost everyone who goes on an African safari shouts out pumbaa from the vehicle. It’s because of The Lion King. The animated movie was so successful that it transplanted a fictional name onto one of Africa’s oldest species.
But Pumbaa doesn’t actually mean warthog in Swahili. It actually has a very complex meaning: “to be absentminded, careless, foolish, ignorant, lazy, ugly, stupid and negligent.” That is a lot of adjectives for just one word and character! However, many Tanzanians and Kenyans traditionally use pumbaa to describe warthogs because they usually cause havoc, scampering through villages and making a mess of everything. Shout or chase a warthog and it makes even more of a mess.
So, for many Swahili speakers, warthogs have always been called pumbaa. The Lion King script writers simply borrowed a popular turn of phrase to create the name for one of Disney’s most loved characters.
The name “warthog” comes from the large, lumpy protrusions on the sides of their heads. Though they are not warts, they do resemble warts, giving the warthog its name. The “warts” are made of bone and cartilage. How do you this one is male or not a female? Males have four warts, two large ones beneath the eyes and two smaller ones just above the mouth; females have two small ones right below their eyes. When the boars charge with their pointy tusks, the warts shield their face and eyes from the blow. They are my favourite as they have so much face value!
While they do not have exemplary eyesight, these pigs make up for it with their sense of smell. They use their super-powered snout to sniff out food and detect predators.
They have a very short memory span. This guy forgot where he was heading when he spotted us and gave us this lovely pose! You normally never spot a warthog with a straight tail; the tail is either facing up when it’s running or down when it’s grazing.
I have used the tip of the knife to create all the hairs on the body.
BALANCING ACT and WHOLESALE MARKET
Filled with fresh produce from local and international suppliers, hawkers’ markets can be found strategically dotted across every African city. If you want fresh fruits and veggies cheaply (mainly because of constant haggling and bargaining), there is no better place to get them than a hawker’s market. It is a fun but rather odoriferous insight into the sort of markets where Kenyans do their weekly shopping from.
The people at the markets are extremely friendly, and if you want an easy time, just accept the offer of help from one of the young men who hang around as they will gladly carry all your heavy bags of shopping for a small fee.
Farmers’ markets can offer farmers increased profit over selling to wholesalers. By selling directly to consumers, produce often needs less transport, less handling, less refrigeration and less time in storage. By selling in an outdoor market, the cost of land, buildings, lighting and air-conditioning is also reduced or eliminated. At the market, hawkers can retain the full premium for part of their produce, instead of only a processor’s wholesale price for the entire lot. But, hawkers also retain profit on produce not sold to consumers, by selling the excess to food-processing firms at a wholesale price.
If you are ever in the mood for a therapeutic grocery shopping experience, be sure to visit such a colourful, vibrant African Market.
Once one is in Maasai land, you cannot miss the sight of a Maasai woman either at work, tending to animals, carrying a baby while breastfeeding, fetching fuel wood from surrounding thicket, carrying water containers or building/ repairing a manyatta. The Maasai people are nomadic pastoralists who live in Kenya and Tanzania, along the Great Rift Valley. The semi-arid landscape they inhabit require the families to move in search of water and grass for their cattle.
In between her burdensome chores of the day, the Maasai woman is also a beader with highly tangible skills. The beadwork is used to create accessories like necklaces, bracelets, pendants, anklets, belts, and sandals, as well as home décor and a number of household tools. There are a number of different colours used in the beadwork, each with a special meaning: red = blood, bravery, and unity. White = health, peace, and purity. Blue = colour of the sky and represents energy, and green = colour of grass, which signifies the land and production. Black =the people and the struggle they must endure. Yellow = the sun, fertility, and growth, and orange = warmth, generosity, and friendship.
Maasai beadwork is worn according to the age and social status of an individual. Unmarried females wear large flat beaded discs around their neck when dancing as a sign of grace and flexibility. A woman getting married wears a very elaborate and heavily beaded neck piece on
her wedding day, and once married, she wears a long necklace with blue beads. Those of a higher social status wear more colourful beads.
This painting is dedicated to the Maasai woman.
Here, I have used mix media and collaging, along with using a painting knife as a tool for applique.
The Samburu live in the Samburu District of Kenya, which has some of the finest scenery and forests in the Country. The proud warriors of the Samburu, (cousins of Maasai) can be seen with their spears and one foot raised behind a stiff leg. They have a slender appearance and extraordinary refined features. The warriors cover their head with red ochre paint and triangular designs on their face, back and chest. The Maasai call them the “Butterfly People” as they over decorate themselves with heavy beaded jewellery and very colourful dressing.
The men are placed in age sets, child, moran, junior elder and elder. The Moran (young men) are fearless fighters who look after their cattle and are generally responsible for the overall safety of the community from aggressive attacks from neighbouring communities and vice versa to add to their livestock wealth. They remain warriors for at least 10 years before attaining the status of a junior elder, at which age they can marry.
MORE ABOUT AVNI SHAH
Avni is a leading, multi-disciplinary Kenyan artist whose works depicting East Africa will surprise and also delight you with details and a happy colour palette which are the hallmarks in her work. She brings both realism as well impressionism to the scene.
She embarked on her art career after her “O” levels. She attained a Teachers Training Diploma in Art Education from the famous Sir J.J. School of Art, Mumbai. She has done many solo and group exhibitions and two in Germany. Her first mentor Keith Harrington inspired her to capture in her paintings what was old before it gave way to the new resulting in exhibitions titled “Mombasa Old Town”, “Opening Doors To Lamu”, “Scenes Of Kenya”. Some of her latest exhibitions include “Shifting Panoramas”, held at the Village Market in September 2019 and “Across East Africa”, held at the UNON in March 2020. She also took part in FOTA at the ISK in November 2019.
She has worked with world renowned architectural mosaic artist Jim Anderson on broken tile mosaics which are displayed at the local hospitals and one in Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, UK.
Some of the highlights of her career have been “Unusual Friends” and “Wonder of the World” depicting adoption of oryx baby by a lioness in Samburu hang at the Mayor of Berlin’s Parlour and the Kenyan Embassy in Berlin respectively. “At the Water’s Edge” was presented to honourable Charles Njonjo at the relaunch of the Yellow Pages Directory.