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A second career after retirement


Carole Munene with some of her art pieces at her Nairobi home on April 13, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Summary

  • Mrs Munene art, which she described as exciting, includes a variety of media such as flowers, wood, paper, strings, glass, fabrics such as net and lace, cardboard, and cement combined on canvas to create fun art.
  • It also employs strong textures achieved through everyday items like hair combs and forks as well as bold and bright colors — reds, yellows, blues, greens — and dark ones like black. It is a work rich in character.

If Carol Munene was allowed to follow her dreams by her father, she would have been a front office manager at the hotel she admired most: Serena Hotels.

But her father saw in her something that she did not — a creative genius. So, he sent her, his only daughter to a college near home, where she could pursue fashion and design.

“I ended falling in love with fabrics and for more than 20 years, I designed wedding dresses,” she says at her art studio in Nairobi.

In 2019 however, she got bored. Her well of inspiration dried up and she knew it was time to do something else. She retired from the industry and went home, to an empty house.

“So there I was with all this fabric that I didn’t want to stop working with because fabrics are in my DNA, and time. I started looking for fresh ways to use it and stumbled upon DIY vases made from fabric. I was super excited, and made one,” she says, and with the enthusiasm of a child shows it to me.

The half-circle vase, made from net fabric, is green in color and lightweight. Excellent for carrying dried flowers for display at the table or reception desk.

Though it was not as perfect as she envisioned it nor the process as easy as YouTube made it seem, a fire was lit and was unquenchable. She read and experienced with everything she could get her hands on, on the use of fabric in art.

“I bought paint, brushes, and books, tried different painting techniques and worked with different kinds of materials. The goal was to find what kind of art I enjoyed creating. I ended up falling in love with mixed media and textured painting.”

Blow away

In the middle of the pandemic, the fashion designer found a second career as a mixed media painter to take her through her sunset years.

Mixed media painting, Mrs Munene explains, is a form of art that combines different media into a single painting.

“That means, everything and anything around me can create art,” the mother of two says. “Because it’s unrestrictive, I thoroughly enjoy it.”

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Pots by Carole Munene at her Nairobi home on April 13, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Her studio which was once-upon-a-time her children’s playroom is replete with this art that “allows my personality to shine through.”

Mrs Munene art, which she described as exciting, includes a variety of media such as flowers, wood, paper, strings, glass, fabrics such as net and lace, cardboard, and cement combined on canvas to create fun art.

It also employs strong textures achieved through everyday items like hair combs and forks as well as bold and bright colors — reds, yellows, blues, greens — and dark ones like black. It is a work rich in character.

“I’m blown away— no, “enthralled” is the word — by what I create because at the time I’m working on a painting, I’m normally experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t,” the artist says.

I ask what stories she wants her paintings to tell.

“Well, I’ve learned that art is for your audience. There’s what you’re trying to convey as an artist, and what your audience interprets upon interacting with it. Generally, I want to serve happiness. I want them (paintings) to excite the senses and desires of the audience.”

The interpretation she has received has left her shocked in a good way. It has evoked fiery emotions and memories of people and places they have seen or been with in this carnival of souls.

Currently, her paintings and vases are hanging in various rooms of family, close friends, and their friends who find them on her Instagram page CraftsbyCiiku.

At the moment, Mrs Munene has 20 paintings and 15 vases ready to splash joy in someone’s sitting room, bedroom, corridor, office, or boardroom. For the first two paintings she sold, she quoted a random price, Sh25,000 for each.

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Art works by Carole Munene at her Nairobi home on April 13, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

“I was surprised when the buyer – my brother – agreed. Every time I see them at his house, it feels like the first time.”

As interest in her work grew, she sought advice on pricing from a painter who gave her a formula for valuing her work.

When does she know a piece is ready for sale?

“When it leaves the house. The thing about mixed media art is that it can always be expanded by adding or removing something.”

But there is a whole ceremony before the piece leaves. She takes pictures because it is a work she can never duplicate again.

“It’s my heart poured out on canvas. I can’t conjure up again in the same intensity,” the 49-year-old says. Her next project is her son’s headboard wall art.

As such, there is nothing like bad art. What may seem like poison to her is another’s meat. Paintings that she considers ‘bad’, she’ll store, cry and lament over them. It is also kept to serve as a reminder that in life, things do not always go the way we want.

Two years in, she is now sharing her painting skills with others – children. Something that brings her immense joy is creating art itself. A grandmother herself, she cannot wait until her grandchild can hold a paintbrush. Until then, she works with other children.

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Art works by Carole Munene at her Nairobi home on April 13, 2022. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

Painting with them over hand-made snacks, she believes that children can be creative if only we let them.

“Painting is therapeutic. It’s a great way of talking to children. I’m usually fascinated by their ability to interpret their art. Painting is an avenue through which they voice their feelings and thoughts, allowing us to see what’s in their hearts,” she explains.

As people look into retirement, they tend to take up low-risk ventures that are safe and familiar. Mrs. Munene took something she had never done before. Why?

“People my age can afford to be risk-takers. For one, there’s a liberation that comes in knowing who you are. I’ve overcome the fear of other people’s opinions. Secondly, we know that failure is not failure. Thirdly, if we don’t do it now, when will we do it? I’ve learned to live and be happy while at it. Therefore, I’ve chosen to do things I enjoy and I’m passionate about. Age with swag, not sorrow.”

Art is also a pricey venture and she considers it a great privilege to have the resources to pursue it.

As my time with her comes to an end, I ask her how her father who passed on in 2019, would react if he found her as a retiree pursuing mixed media art.

“He’d be extremely proud of me.”

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