By Ali Zaidi
My wife is black, beautiful and strong. I was born and grew up in India, and am none of the above. My wife is a Sculptor. Her name is Irene Wanjiru she makes big, bold, fierce carvings in wood. When she attacks a virgin log with an adze, you had better stand back as the chips fly. She rocks back on her heels, adze flung back as far as her arms will stretch, then slams it down into the wood in a swooping arc that takes your breath away. Poetry in motion, violent and alive!
My wife cannot sit still. She loves to work - the harder and more demanding the work the better. Having brought up three children under the usual circumstances - never enough money for their needs, essential purchases always being put off till the end of the month, husband always in the bar - she became restless and did a modest catering business for a few months.
But she soon found that while you can take a pound of love and cook it in the stew if you are doing it for family and friends, it just isn’t fun cooking for total strangers. Then she discovered sculpture more or less by accident, enrolling in a workshop in the Kuona studio in Nairobi’s National museum.
Almost immediately, she made a name for herself for the speed of her technical development and the originality of her work. She never imitates, never does the same thing twice, yet her work seems to tap a deep historical well, a sort of collective African unconsciousness. A collector said that a carving of a pregnant woman reminded him irresistibly of the Yoruba carvings of three centuries ago, so then we had to rush out and buy a book of African carvings, because she hadn’t actually seen any Yoruba carving.
But she has yet to acquire any airs or graces. Nor does she have the faintest idea of how to talk arty or suck up to important, rich people. She grew up on the shamba and, By God, she means to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground.