I am glad that the rat race had not stopped me from finding time to go and imbibe in Geraldine Roberts’ latest offerings of exceptional works of art. The crazy Nairobi traffic jam had conspired with the torrential rain to stop me and many others from attending the opening night but I was determined not to miss it.
I made it close to a week after it had been launched and what an offering it is. Dubbed The Mau Forest, Geraldine renders her voice to the ongoing campaign to conserve the country’s largest water tower and she makes the appeal in three distinct yet intertwined voices that are quite absorbing.
The first and main voice is articulated through her brushes and oil on canvas into fine works of art that range from People of the Forest, Scorched Earth to the Abomination of Desolation, Intertwined, The Nest on the Highest Branch and many others.
The exhibition which ran at the Village Market’s main exhibition hall from May 14 to 24 had numerous memorable pieces that fascinated me. I was intrigued by her piece christened Intertwined. On the surface, the piece had what looked like a snake intertwined around a tree branch ready to pounce on its hunt. However, one could also not help thinking of how our lives are all intertwined between the hunter and the hunted.
I loved The Nest on the Highest Branch because of the richness of the piece’s colours and message. In my opinion, the piece captured Geraldine’s thematic concern of the importance of forests. At the highest level, trees offer refuge to delicate lives like the chicks in the bird’s nest. Underneath, the foliage is alive too with creepers a fact that illustrates the significance of forest.
I was also taken in by the Kaleidoscope of Joy, which seems to have stirred images of my growing up in the rural area. Using a mix of sharp and eye catching colours, Geraldine the piece reminded me of the winds swaying trees and people running helter-skelter, just before the clouds opened to quench the thirst of mother earth. It reminded me of our excitement as we ran around encouraging the rain to fall but it also made me think that the trees were equally happy and the swaying and whistling as the wind passed was an expression of happiness as they rains brought nourishment.
There is no doubt that Geraldine spent time and poured all her passion to each piece. This involvement seems to have sipped to the way the exhibition was curated because her voice is also heard through the quotable quotes that accompany her artistic pieces. This voice in the first set of her quotes seems directed to her universal concern to protect the environment. The efforts in Copenhagen might not have come up with what we all desired but Geraldine still pricks our individual and collective conscience on the need to be selfless in protecting the future.
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” This Greek proverb was the first quote I encountered when I visited the exhibition and while Geraldine might have meant it to help us think about environmental conservation, I couldn’t help connecting it to the hottest topic in the country at the moment.
I couldn’t help thinking that if we approached the constitutional review process with the future generation in mind, we probably would have taken a short time that the two decades it has taken us. There is no doubt that the process has been derailed by the so called leaders who have always viewed the process as a way of rewarding their political appetite. Leaders, who have reasoned that unless the process had a way of rewarding them and their ambitions, then the constitution review process was not worth supporting.
Skewed and outdated land administration rules have been a threat to the country’s very own existence that are clearly manifested in the way we have wasted our water towers epitomized by the Mau Forest. Vesting powers to an office that has been occupied by people who have shown very little regard to conservation has seen us encroach on water towers like the Aberdare, Cherangani, Mau and even the Ngong and Karura forests have not been spared. Even people and institutions like the UN and certain embassies that need to know importance of forests have benefitted from allocations that have been made using these twisted land administration regulations. Those who have stepped up to oppose these dangerous trends like Professor Wangari Maathai and others have been vilified and that is why Geraldine’s voice is important in all this.
A significant milestone in this voice of conservation is marked with a quote from the Canadian Cree Indian proverb that is profound. “Only when the last tree has died, Only when the last river has been poisoned, Only when the last fish has been caught, Only then will we realize one cannot eat money.”
This voice is tied to her call for action that went in tandem with the exhibition. At the exhibition, there were trees indigenous to Nairobi for sale at Ksh. 250. Buying one tree would have enabled the planting of 5-trees at the Mau Forest. This is echoed by her closing quote from a Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20-years ago. The next best time is now.”
This call to action in Geraldine’s exhibition is tied to her belief that is discerned in her second set of quotes that are tied to her faith as a Baha’I and as an artist. She voiced this by extensively citing Baha’u’allah and Vincent van Gogh.
“How much does your faith inform and inspire what paint?” I asked her as I recalled one of Abdu’l-Baha’s quotes that I had found really striking. “He likened the world of humanity to a tree and all the nations to its branches and the people to its leaves, buds and fruits.”
“It is everything,” she answered me even before I could finish and quickly drew her Prayer book that she also gave me to go and familiarize myself with. “When we turn to the word of God, confirmations come and keep coming.”
This influence is evident in every piece that was being exhibited. She also mentioned that she has already gotten a feeling, a confirmation of what she would be possibly tackling in her next exhibition.
“This morning, I was rampaging through some past works when I came across a piece with dust that I had done sometimes back,” Geraldine noted. “It became clear that my next work will have to do something with earth.”
It will be show to look forward to if the Mau Forest is anything to by. The paintings speak to you. There are those that are loud and others silent. With screaming red colour that also captures her pain. It is a treat that seeks a balance in the world in a very persuasive way that talks to our sensibilities and beliefs outlined in this quote that touched me.
“While the world of nature stands in need of development, man’s approach to such development must be tampered with moderation, a commitment to protecting the heritage of “future generations” and an awareness to the sanctity of nature that pervades the Writings of the Baha’i Faith.”