Meet Wanjiku Gakunga, US-based artist making art with recycled cans

Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga has lived in America for 20 years and counting.

Kenyan artist Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga based in San Antonio makes art through recycled cans

Inspired by Mabati Women Groups movement, the San Antonio-based artist has made a name for herself as an excellent artist who develops art pieces using recycled cans.

Naomi hails from a village in Murang'a County called Gacharage. Her grandmother took care of her as a child while her mother worked as an elementary school teacher.

They then moved to San Francisco on a scholarship, before moving to San Antonio. She has now lived in Alamo City for 20 years.

While in San Antonio, she recalled seeing recycled cans outside during a visit to a friend's house. The rust and patterns that covered the can intrigued her.

"I was wondering what can I do with these cans? How can I create art?" she narrates. "That really is what awakened in me the memory of the Mabati women." The Mabati Women's Group was formed in Kenya in the 1960s.

"In this country in the 60s we are going through the civil rights movement, and in Kenya, the women also going through their own movement where they are empowering themselves here they are becoming independent, fighting for their rights," Wanjiku Gakunga told KENS, virtual channel 5 based in San Francisco.

Mabati became associated with these women as they roofed their homes with sheet metal as a way to collect clean water.

She began experimenting with mabati in her art as a way to honor her grandmother and the Mabati women.

She usually leaves out mabati in her backyard for months. She then relies on the hot Texas weather will then contribute to its rusting and coloration.

In the summer, the warmest area in all of Texas is the southwestern lowland area, where highs from June to August are 37/38°C.

"When I bring them indoors, I unroll and I'm like a little kid because I don’t know what to expect," she said. "Some of them are darker, some of it is lighter, so once I unroll and see what’s in there, then the creative process begins."

Gakunga said every piece of art she creates has a connection to her home village. It is her way of staying connected to her roots thousands of kilometres away.

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