Art in the Diaspora

Leo Mativo Showcases Artistry at Montague Contemporary, New York

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Does chaos need order to survive? As aspects of nature, do we thrive on this delicate balance between chaos and order? The exhibition at Montague Contemporary features nine works by the Kenyan artist Leo Mativo exploring these two divine phenomenons.

For his inaugural solo show,’Buried Butterflies’, Leo Mativo explores the intricate dance we all face as products of nature, the balance between order and chaos. Through nine captivating oil-on-canvas pieces, Leo explores self-image and mental health. The exhibition opened on November 9th and runs through December 23rd, 2023, at Montague Contemporary‘s Chelsea location, 26th Street, NY.

Open Door, 2023. Oil on Canvas. 150 x 100 cm
Image courtesy of Montague Contemporary

Hailing from Syokimau, Kenya, the self-taught artist Leo Mativo creates artworks that challenge the impacts of our decisions on personal relationships and societal engagement. His significant canvas works, often featuring eyes as human symbols, establish a profound connection with the essence of existence, delving into self-consciousness.

Mativo’s artistic process aligns seamlessly with his motifs. By employing unconventional tools like brushes and fingers, he highlights the intimacy of his subjects. Additionally, multiple layers of oil paint metaphorically unveil concealed realities within our physical beings, patiently awaiting discovery on the canvas. Transitioning from mere issues, his abstracted muses become gateways to the contemplative depths of the soul. This transformation strikes a delicate balance between vitality and vulnerability. In this intricate interplay, layers of paint weave a narrative that mirrors the multifaceted nature of existence.

Mativo articulates the symbolism behind “Buried Butterflies:

It represents the connection between human experience, thoughts, emotions, and their ties to our physical bodies. Like butterflies’ transformative journeys, inner growth, and emotional landscapes remain concealed beneath the surface, vibrant amidst chaos and order.’

Two Heads with Many Voices, 2023. Oil on Canvas. 60 x 70 cm. Image courtesy of Montague Contemporary.

“Buried Butterflies” invites audiences to explore the ethereal and human interplay. It prompts reflection on the depth of the human experience and the potential for personal transformation beneath the surface. Mativo’s exhibition is a testament to his ability to capture the human spirit, urging viewers to engage in a contemplative journey through his remarkable creations.


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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