Ian Njenga, the boy who was expelled from a school in Nakuru for art that was termed as demonic stands beside his painting at Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. (Photo: Peter Muiruri/Standard)
A top hotel in the city has honoured a Form Four student who was expelled from a school in Nakuru for what was termed demonic drawings.
Ian Njenga, 17, was accused of coming up with artwork the administration said was “suggestive that he owes allegiance to some demonic faith”.
Among other illustrations, Bahati High School’s administration said Njenga’s drawing of a scorpion on another student’s shirt was a sign of recruiting other students.
The school’s unprecedented decision was first highlighted by The Standard and drew the anger of a cross-section of Kenyans and art lovers in particular.
The charges were so serious that Njenga was advised to go for counselling before looking for another school where such ‘subversive activities’ would be closely monitored.
Last Saturday, Njenga was elated to be in a group of seven artists selected by Villa Rosa Kempinski to display their work during the second edition of Wasanii Jukwaani, the hotel’s annual art exhibition and auction programme.
The pieces had to convey a central theme highlighting the global chain’s 120 years’ anniversary.
Never in his wildest dreams had the boy, who has never stepped into a fine arts class, thought that his paintings would be displayed side by side with those of accomplished artists in a five-star hotel.
Njenga’s piece on display was a charcoal on canvas painting with the theme Vintage Transport that was going for Sh50,000.
It depicts the old transport system comprising the steam-powered, three-wheeled vehicles that were in vogue in the 1800s when the hotel chain opened its doors.
According to the hotel’s office of public communication, Njenga’s story was touching considering that he was just an innocent amateur who unknowingly rallied the country towards appreciating art.
“We selected the boy because we wanted to give him a platform to nurture his talent and showcase his artwork. We value people with fresh ideas and want to expose them to a ready market. His exploits will be a stepping stone for other budding artists,” said Mwingirwa Kithure, the hotel’s public relations manager.
When our team met Njenga at the exhibition, he came across as a very reserved boy.
This is to be expected of any young man going through the teenage stage where such an adolescent may seem distant, even detached at times. But his warmth is infectious once he starts talking about art.
“I was in primary school when I noticed that I had a love for art. I would draw cartoons by the age of ten. It came naturally. I am happy that my parents encouraged me to cultivate this talent while pushing on with my education. It is great to be featured in a big exhibition,” Njenga told us on the sidelines of the exhibition.
According to him, offending anyone with his drawings would be the last thing on his mind, adding that certain details in a painting can only be comprehended by “those who appreciate art”.
“Seven of us who were found with drawings in class were told to step out. Little did I know that my academic routine in the school was about to change for good. Like the rest, I was told to go for counselling only to find a letter of expulsion waiting for me,” he says.
Following the public backlash, the school tried to readmit him but his parents opted to transfer him to another school in Nairobi.
Though he loves history, Njenga’s love for art is growing by the day, egged on by overwhelming support from his family and friends.
“I want to encourage young people with such talents not to give up but fully express themselves through such means. There are economic benefits if taken seriously,” he advises.