‘Of Lace & Steel’ highlights women’s empowerment

Although her journeys have carried her from her home in Kenya to the campus of UCLA, to the streets of San Francisco and finally to the opens arms of the Alamo City, Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga still cherishes her African roots and culture, and fond memories of her grandmother and her friends, who were basket weavers.

“From them I learned how to be creative using any local materials that were available, mainly straws, sisal, and shrubs, known as migiyo in the Kikuyu language,” she said. “Kikuyu is spoken by approximately 6 million people in Kenya.”

In her work, “Woven Memories,” the artist, who studied art and design at the University of Nairobi, uses mabati galvanized sheet metal. The word mabati means galvanized metal sheets in the Swahili language of East Africa.

“Mabati are used for roofs, and sometimes, the walls, of houses in much of Kenya,” Wanjiku said. “In the countryside, they have replaced the traditional grass thatch. Although mabati are a utilitarian commodity with a specific housing function, the transition from the traditional grass thatch roofing to mabati, in central Kenya is associated with the spawning of women’s empowerment and organization groups.”

The concept of the strong female spirit is illustrated in many of Wanjiku’s works, which are included along with those of artist Laura Mijangos, in “Of Lace & Steel,” an exhibition that opens with an artist reception from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, October 8 at Dock Space Gallery, Studio 111, 107 Lone Star Blvd. The exhibition is a special collaboration curated by MBAW Gallery and hosted by Dock Space Gallery for the Second Saturday Art Walk in the Lone Star Art District. Music will be provided by Aaron and George Prado.

“I am a firm believer in arts organizations collaborating on projects, creating a performance or exhibition that reaches out to a greater audience,” said Bill FitzGibbons, director of Dock Space Gallery. “These relationships foster other ideas that often become the basis for future innovative collaborations for the community." 

For Laura Mijangos, “Of Lace & Steel” offers the opportunity, she said, to expand her rendering of what women represent. “It is apparent that lace symbolizes softness, while steel—strength. But to go beyond the obvious, I researched their origins. Lace was designed to elaborate the edges of plain fabrics, and steel was created as a more malleable, stronger form of iron. As women, we bear these traits as well. We elaborate the edges of our lives and our families’ lives with gentleness and fortitude. And together, as the steel needle and the cloth lace intertwine, we women, of all colors and backgrounds, can weave an impenetrable tapestry of solidarity and peace in this ever ordinary, ever changing, ever terrifying, ever beautiful world.”

In her piece, “Bird in a Cage,” Mijangos uses both lace and steel in her painting of a woman standing with her back to the viewers, staring at a tiny bird perched on a low-level wall. If the viewer looks close, they will see that thin lines in front of the female figure. “Sometimes, we’re the bird in a cage,” the artist said.

“This collaboration between MBAW Gallery and Dock Space Gallery features the work of two artists - one of African and another of Hispanic descent,” curator Julya Jara said. “Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga and Laura Mijangos use different mediums and techniques to explore what it takes to be a woman of the 21st century. In this exhibition, they show their newest works as well as a special collaborative piece they worked on together.”

For more information, visit www.musicalbridges.org