Elkana Ongesa (1944) -- Sculptures
Elkana O. Onge’sa was born in November 1944 in south Kisii district, western Kenya. He is a freelance artist (sculptor/painter), based in Nairobi. He is a former senior lecture at Kisii teachers college (1975 – 1989) and taught as an adjunct lecture at University of Eastern Africa, Baraton (2001 – 2003). He comes from a family with long history of art and craft industries going back several generations. In his home area he has mobilized resources for various development initiatives: community water and rural electricity supply, building schools and churches, medical insurance cover for artisans and their families, and educational support for needy children, plus export marketing of Kisii soapstone products.Onge’sa has developed new ideas and technique of working with stone that have made it possible to use unusual rocks in Kenya.
Professional Experience: Onge’sa has had great influence in the development of visual arts, especially sculpture and painting. Makerere University awarded him for painting (1968) and sculpture (1971).
In 1995 he received the “Distinguished Services Award” from Kenyatta University and the Head of state Commendation (HSC) from the President of the republic Kenya (2004) citing exemplary contributions to art, culture and or community socio-economic development initiatives.
Major Art pieces and Show: In 2006 he produced a bronze monument 10ft x 8.5ft entitled “Her mother” permanently displayed at the World Sculpture Park Chang Chum City in North Eastern China. Other major pieces by Onge’sa are at UNESCO Headquarters New York, the coca-cola Olympics Museum in Atlanta Georgia and at the Caltex Oil company offices in Houston, Texas, among many others. Currently, Mr. Onge’sa is finishing his biggest piece in Africa, the 5-ton Murumbi peace Memorial granite sculpture at city park, Nairobi.
Early in 2007, he spent six weeks in USA as an artist-in-residence at Hofstra University, New York and other institutions in New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Dallas who invited him to give lecture on the status of the arts I Kenya. He held his most successful stone sculpture exhibition at the Rosenberg Museum in New York.
Material, Ideas and Inspirations: Onge’sa has developed new ideas and technique of working with stone that have made it possible to use unusual rocks in Kenya. Material for the current exhibition (9 wood and 30 stone carvings) include granite and the Kisii soapstone, sand stone, red and blue granite and conglomerates, plus marble from all the 8 provinces of Kenya.
Types of wood used include jacaranda, black pepper tree from Nairobi, blue gum from Kisii, and some drift wood from Eldoret area. This show entitled “PEACE, HOPE AND UNITY FROM PIECES OF WOOD AND STONE OF DISPAIR” in his means of sharing personal experiences, challenge and success with his media and ideas. The pieces and different in subject and style from previous works. They were for his private enjoyment and pleasure, but friends urged him to exhibit them for the public to see and learn from.
Lifestyle: Onge’sa is prolific and persistent in art production, a practice spanning over 40 years. He leads a very simple life style. His work habits, talents, inspirations and creativity portray an element of mystery, emerging from various and unusual sources. He works for long hours, eat what appears as very simple traditional foods – they include ugali and uji made from boiled maize or finger millet flour, plenty of vegetables, milk, fruits, sweet potatoes, bananas and legumes. He enjoys walking as an exercise, and participates in social activities of his local seventh Day Adventist church.
Whenever you see a finished piece by Onge’sa, the artist may have recited several sport poems, hummed many traditional Kisii or Kiswahili songs during its creation. Therefore each piece is a complete story right from the concept, to choosing of materials, tools and assistants if the size of a piece requires support of others.
Exhibitions and Travels: Onge’sa has traveled to strange corners of this world for adventure and study of yet another kind. His travels follow a mysterious ten- year cycle that he does not explain.
In 1977 went to Nigeria for the world festival (FESTAC’77) of black people art and culture. In 1987 he was in Eskimo land in the Artic. In 1997 he was in Philippines, South East Asia. In 2007 he was in US with a touring exhibition starting from New York to Texas. He staged traveling exhibitions in New York, Dallas, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts in USA in 2007. He held other show in Cairo (2005), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (2006), China (2006), Japan 1994/96/97, New Zealand (1990), Holland 1990, Sweden (1979), Montreal and Toronto Canada1987, and several others in Kenya and other African countries.
Acknowledgements: Mr. Onge’sa He is grateful to the Village Market, the co-operative Bank of Kenya, Ford Foundation, The Murumbi Foundation, the Department of Culture and many individuals and institutions that have contributed to his career in art and development.
1975: He finished from elementary school to go to boarding
school away from home.
1967: He left Kenya to go to Uganda for his university studies.
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