Charcoal artist Nadia Wamunyu, Kenya’s rising star

Nadia Wamunyu with her charcoal works at Biitil Aman opening
Charcoal artist Nadia Wanjiru Wamunyu has been painting practically all her life. From the time she was three when her Nubian mother Buthaina first bought her water colors she’s had a paint brush in her hand

Coincidentally, that was the same year Nadia lost her hearing due to a misdiagnosis by a doctor who prescribed the wrong antibiotic. The family didn’t realize her problem right away. Instead, they nearly accepted Nadia’s nursery school teacher’s assessment that she was mentally handicapped and thus could not remain in their school.

Fortunately, her family had her properly tested and found out her brain was fine. She was just as quick and gifted as her twin sister Wambui although from then on she has worn a hearing aid.

But that hasn’t hampered her development as a visual artist, especially as she’s had the full support of her parents. There were the water colours from her mum and drawing pencils from her dad who had seen her artistic talent early on and aimed to nurture it.

Kenya artists Nadia Wamunyu & Zihan Kassam at Lamu Festival. Photo: Margaretta wa Gacheru
Kenya artists Nadia Wamunyu & Zihan Kassam at Lamu Festival. Photo: Margaretta wa Gacheru

All through primary school Nadia was able to paint, however in secondary, art was not a subject she could pursue in the classroom. That is why when she saw one of Kenya’s finest contemporary artists, Patrick Mukabi on Saturday morning TV teaching art to children, she and her parents went looking for him at his studio at the GoDown Art Centre in Nairobi’s Industrial Area.

Nadia was 14 in 2010 when she first went to study with Patrick. She was in her second year at a boarding girls’ school, but she spent all her time with him during school holidays and once she completed her O-levels, she was at the GoDown full time.

In all, Nadia studied with Patrick for four years; but he wasn’t her exclusive source of inspiration since his studio was like an old fashioned guild where a horde of other young Kenyans came regularly to learn from the Master, a gentle man who could rarely turn any aspiring artist away


Yet Nadia was different from the rest. Her parents paid for extra classes and Patrick understood that she was special, not just because of her hearing problem but because her artistic gifts were manifest in the many charcoal drawings that she made.

Those gifts were also recognized in 2013 when she won first prize in the student category at the prestigious Manjano Nairobi County Art Festival. That would mark the beginning of her exhibiting everywhere from foreign cultural centers like the Goethe Institute, Alliance Française and British Council to up-market malls and hotels to the University of Nairobi and the National Museums of Kenya.

Then just before she received the invitation from Herbert Menzer to be part of the Lamu Painters Festival, she heard from Patrick that he felt he had taught her all he could and she was ready to go out on her own.

He was right, of course. For despite being the only indigenous Kenyan painter at the 2015 Festival, her charcoal drawings were among the first to be sold at the Baitil Aman Hotel in Shela where all 14 painters were being exhibited.

The Hotel’s exquisite exhibition featured just the artworks produced during the festival, so it was apparent Nadia had been working alongside professional painters who’d come from all over Europe (from Germany, Holland, Russia and the UK) just to participate in this unique, festive and sun-kissed experience.


At 22, Nadia has her whole life ahead of her. Still undecided what course of action to follow next, she may remain in Kenya or she may go for further studies abroad. Either way, she’s got a bright future ahead of her and as she’d never been to Lamu before, she said she was grateful and honoured to be recognized by Herbert Menzer.

credit –