East Africa

Jess Atieno Opens Solo Exhibition at Montague Contemporary, New York

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Jess Atieno, a Kenyan mixed media artist, opens an exciting solo show at the Montague Contemporary, New York, presenting. Titled “Of Land, Body, and Water,” the exhibition presents her works, which delve into the intricate dimensions of representation within the post-colonial context. The exhibition opens on September 7th with a reception at the Montague Contemporary, New York.

Jess Atieno is an influential voice in the contemporary Kenyan and African art scene. Her works explore complex narratives of identity, place, and colonial history. She studied at the Asiko School of Art in Lagos and got her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA.

Broken to be made whole, 2022. Serigraph on jacquard tapestry. 251 × 145 cm. Image courtesy of Artsy.

Ranging on different mediums, including the leso, the exhibition immerses viewers in the complex duality of representation. She skillfully navigates the transient nature of visual imagery. Her artworks shed light on how conventional mediums often fall short of capturing the essence of their subjects. She urges viewers to scrutinize the camera’s objective gaze, challenging the assumptions it perpetuates about identity. The presented artworks provoke contemplation, inviting us to question traditional means of representation.

“Of Land, Body, and Water” invites us to explore the potential for reclamation through the Swahili “Leso” fabrics, known as khanga. The leso fabric in her body of work is the symbolic representation of regaining control over representation. She weaves historical narratives with the lesos, imbuing them with empowerment and identity. In Atieno’s hands, the leso becomes a powerful narrative medium. Its intricate designs and proverbs (ujumbe) have long served as vehicles for communication, particularly among women in cultures where their voices may otherwise be silenced. Atieno artfully utilizes these core elements—ujumbe, pindo, and mji—to elevate her artistic storytelling.

Past is Prologue #1, 2022.Serigraph on canvas
183 × 183 cm. Image courtesy of Artsy.

Beyond her artwork, Atieno founded the Nairobi Print Project. This is an open-source online library dedicated to African colonial and diaspora histories. Her impact transcends the canvas, extending to the roots of African cultural heritage and representation.

In “Of Land, Body, and Water,” Jess Atieno invites us to embark on a transformative visual journey. Through her lens, we question our identity and create ways to reclaim it. Moreover, we must understand where the past and present converge to shape a brighter, more inclusive future.


Rose Mwikali Musyoki is a creative writer from Nairobi, Kenya. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Business and Finance from the University of Embu, Kenya, and is the founder of Bloom Inc, an art startup in Kenya. Currently, she works as a writer for Art News Africa.

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