I was born on 14th March 1982 in Kisii County of western Kenya, where I was in formal schooling from 1991 to 2004, completing the level of secondary school. After completion of my formal education, I began working as an apprentice sculptor with Design Power Consultants, under the tutelage of Mzee Elkana On’ges’a / Gerard Motondi Oroo / Peter Kenyana / Duke Kombo, where I was privileged to work on several significant, monument sized, public commissions now resident in Nairobi. Thereafter, I retreated to my home studio in Bomware Village, Tabaka, which was renowned for Kisii soapstone mining.
I am a self-taught / continuous learning artist, with a great level of experience working on sculptures of stone. My approach is based on a physical, ‘hands – on’ research of stone, which is fundamentally at the heart of this new solo presentation of stone sculpture, entitled ‘Afro-Cubism Journey #1’.
I am pleased to have defined the term ‘Afro-Cubism’ for this specific examination of stone sculpture work in the 21 st Century African art arena. ‘Afro-Cubism’ is a unique, ‘intentional’ exhibition of stone sculpture work, undertaken step – by – step with Mutuma Marangu, over the past 5 years. It was sketched and designed in Kenya, to take on Picasso and the rest of the early 20th Century Cubism School in France, moving it forward from a 2D format back to Africa to a 3D stone sculpture format.
This examination, Afro-Cubism Journey #1, has been undertaken, paying deep tribute to the pre – 20th Century, predominately West African wood sculptures that deeply influenced Picasso and the Cubism School. Afro-Cubism Journey #1 is very ambitious for any Artist, let alone someone like myself who is ‘self – taught’. However, I am a continuous student, who likes to experiment and experience the use of new stone materials and possibilities to develop my sculpture and design skills. My experimentation and competence has been refined in my work on variety of hard stone mediums, such as Granite; Amethyst; Basalt; Quartz; Petrified Wood; Quartzite; Agate; Soapstone; Conglomerate; Obsidian; Opal; and Jade amongst others.
For Afro-Cubism Journey #1, I made work #1 ‘New Year’s Celebration’ in Kisii Stone and the following works #2 - #26 in Silicate. Currently I’m undertaking a new stone sculpture examination entitled Afro-Cubism Journey #2 [ACJ#2] together with Mutuma Marangu, with my target and strategy to revitalize and utilize every related opportunity possible to develop true stone sculpture concepts.
Robin Okeyo Mbera
“The Europeans who went to Africa came back with ‘modern’ art. What is more African than a Picasso?”
Afro-Cubism, Journey #1 by Mr. Robin Okeyo Mbera is the first public exhibition from The Mutuma Marangu Sculpture Collection. Afro-Cubism, Journey #1 [hereafter ‘ACJ#1’] is noteworthy and important for many ‘firsts’ in the ‘journey’ that has been undertaken by Robin O. Mbera [hereafter ‘ROM’] in conjunction with myself, Mutuma Marangu [hereafter ‘MM’] inside The Mutuma Marangu Sculpture Collection [hereafter ‘TMMSC’].
ACJ#1 has been a journey that is a long time in the making. If one focuses on ROM’s CV, since 2014, it would publicly appear that he may not have been very active over the past 5 years. This observation however, could not be further from the truth, as ROM has been focused on challenging task of designing and completing ACJ#1.
Looking back at my notes, ACJ#1 was the ‘intentional’ outcome of a meeting between ROM / MM that started on 30 th April 2014, when ROM presented the concept of a ‘5 Year Plan’, where ROM coined the concept of ‘Afro-Cubism’ as the intentional outcome of Cubism for 21 st Century Africa. As I write this Statement, I continue to realise the articulation and intersection of numerous points of interest / importance that this physical artistic journey has ignited, of which I hope this will be a lasting impact of ACJ#1 in the Kenyan / African sculpture arena.
In the ROM / MM follow up meeting of 20th May 2014, the first ACJ#1 sculpture ‘New Year’s Celebrations’ joined the TMMSC. Of particular interest is the fact that this sculpture is the only piece in ACJ#1 collection made of Kisii Stone. Looking back at my notes, during this same meeting, we both agreed that to undertake this process in a meaningful, intentional manner, that there would be a need to take direct inspiration from the Cubism scene of precisely 1 century before. I was pleased to research and present ROM with several books on ‘Cubism’ in order to facilitate a broader, deeper understanding of 20th Century ‘Cubism’ in the 21 st Century ‘Afro-Cubism’ setting. These books included, “A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticisms, 1906 – 1914 , edited by Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten”; “Cubism (Colour Library) , by Philip Cooper”; “Cubism (Art &Ideas) , by Dr Neil Cox”; “Picasso and the Invention of Cubism , by Pepe Karmel”; “Cubism and Culture (World of Art) , by Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten”; “Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica (The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) , by T. J. Clark (Author)”; “Cubism (Taschen Basic Art Series) , by Anne Gantefuhrer-Trier (Author)”; and “Cubism (Movements in Modern Art series)  by David Cottington”.
Prior to undertaking the ACJ#1 process / collaboration with ROM, there had been no clear, central theme or intentional focus of the sculptures that joined TMMSC. It was during this period that ROM, in deep collaboration with myself, agreed that he would intentionally create sculptures that projected continuity of ideals and ideas over many years, as can be directly seen through ACJ#1 in I. Design: Afro-Cubism; II. Stone Colour: Black, with shades of Red; III. Stone Composition: Basalt; IV. Stone Size and Weight: Exhibition proportions rather than Monument size. In particular, the Stone Composition for ACJ#1 being Basalt for Sculptures #2 - #26, changed the historic dynamics of what types of tools were needed to accomplish an exhibition of this number of sculptures, as confirmed by the transition from hand tools [Sculpture #1] to power tools [Sculptures #2 - #26].
Of particular interest to me in our discussions was the intent by ROM to take Picasso and the rest of the early 20th Century Cubism School in France forward from a 2D painting format to 21 st Century Africa in a 3D stone sculpture format, at all times paying tribute to the pre – 20th Century 3D African wood sculptures, predominately from West Africa, that deeply influenced Picasso and the Cubism School.
Just as Nadeen Pennisi noted in their 2014 paper, ‘Picasso and Africa: How African Art Influenced Pablo Picasso and His Work’  [pg1], that ‘[f]rom a young age, Picasso understood that in order to achieve greatness and to transcend the master of the past he had to break from the formalities of classical painting and create new forms of expression’, I also believe that ROM implicitly understood the need to explicitly confront this meaningful and difficult challenge, in order Afro-Cubism, Journey #1 to move himself forward in a process that I have coined ‘reconciling oneself to oneself’. As Picasso [Pennisi, pg27] further described African art as a ‘form of mediation between artists and unknown hostile forces that surrounded them’, ROM has uniquely been artistically true to himself, reconciling himself to himself, over the 5 year ACJ#1 process, abstaining from urges to participate in partial shows or incomplete presentations of this journey, which would have diluted its importance, strength and impact.
Although ACJ#1 numerically comprises a small but very important part of TMMSC, it is with great joy and happiness that The Mutuma Marangu Sculpture Collection is pleased to exhibit Robin Okeyo Mbera’s, Afro-Cubism Journey #1. It is my sincere hope that you will find this exhibition as important, interesting, and compelling as the participants in TMMSC have been privileged to experience over the past 5 years.
The Mutuma Marangu Sculpture Collection
It is a great honour to have The Mutuma Maragu Sculpture Collection (TMMSC) choose the Nairobi National Museum as a venue for their first public viewing. Most exciting is that although TMMSC is presenting an artist who is not new to the museum, this new body of sculptural work, Afro-Cubism, Journey #1 has never before been seen in public.
I first met the artist Robin Mbera in 2010 through his mentor, acclaimed Kenyan sculptor Elkana Ongesa. I later had an opportunity to interact closely with Mbera in 2011 when he was working on a series of works for submission to a group exhibition at the museum.
I have followed the steady progress of Mbera’s Kisii Stone sculpture work with interest as he experimented with different techniques and types of the stone beginning with simple representational work and later delving into more complex exploratory forms and subjects. Today, with guidance from TMMSC, Mbera seems to have built a carefully planned career trajectory.
In Afro-Cubism Journey #1 , Mbera takes on a minimalist approach on form and texture. His artistic freedom and boldness is evident in the way he manipulates the cubist style to bring out significant aspects of human life and other relations in a subtle yet explicit manner.
Afro-Cubism Journey #1 is an exhibition that will appeal to an international and multigenerational audience with potential to serve as a major attraction where ever it is hosted.
Lydia Gatundu Galavu
Curator of Contemporary Art
National Museums of Kenya