17.6 C
Nairobi
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeProfilesKhadambi Asalache: Kenyan Artist Whose UK House Was Turned Into a Museum

Khadambi Asalache: Kenyan Artist Whose UK House Was Turned Into a Museum

Talent is abundant in Kenya, and on several instances, the best of it across multiple disciplines has made it to either the global stage or history books. Whereas the world may acknowledge us for track and field prowess, we got something to say when it comes to art as well.

Khadambi Asalache made history in the UK after his South London house was turned into a museum following his death in May 2006. He succumbed to lung cancer.

A talented poet and author, Asalache led a modest life in the UK – with career stints as a tutor, journalist, and later a civil servant.

File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache's house. |Photo| Courtesy|
File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache’s house. |Photo| Courtesy|

Background & Education

Asalache was born in Kaimosi, Western Kenya on February 28, 1935. He was the son of a chief – eldest child.

His love for literature developed at a young age. While herding his father’s livestock, the celebrated artist would read Shakespear.

He attended the Mangu high School before proceeding to pursue Architecture at the Royal Technical College – now University of Nairobi. Asalache studied fine art in Rome – Italy, Geneva – Switzerland, and Vienna – Austria.

Asalache was very social, and whenever he got home for the holidays, he would seek out fellow youth in the village to interact.

He met the love of his life, Susie Thomson – a Scottish basket maker, in 1989.

File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache's house. |Photo| Courtesy|
File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache’s house. |Photo| Courtesy|

Career

After completing his education, Asalache settled in London in 1960 and taught Swahili at the Berlitz School. Later, he worked for BBC African Service.

He also served as a civil servant at HM (His Majesty’s) Treasury, also known as the Exchequer or informally as the Treasury.

Writing

Asalache published his first novel, the Calabash of Life was published in 1967 – focusing on Kenyan tribesmen who opposed a usurper. His second novel, The Latecomer, also became an instant success. Extracts from the novel – with animal characters – were aired by the BBC African Service in January 1971.

He also wrote and produced an episode for the BBC series Danger Man.

In 1973, a collection of his poems Sunset in Naivasha was published by Eothen Books. In 1995 his poem Death of a Chief was published in the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry.

File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache's house. |Photo| Courtesy|
File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache’s house. |Photo| Courtesy|

Wandworth Road House

In 1981, Asalache bought the South London house for less than the £31,000 asking price. The home’s strategic location allowed him to commute easily to work.

Since the house was initially occupied by squatters, it was in a poor state whe he bought it. Asalache spent 20 years decorating the house internally. He used Moorish-influenced fretwork which he cut from old pine doors and wooden boxes. Illustrations of the African Wilderness and his collection of 19th century English lusterware pottery argumented the woodwork.

The work takes inspiration from the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Alhambra and Generalife in Granada, doors in Zanzibar, panelled interiors in Damascus, the waterside houses or yalı in Istanbul, and ancient architecture from Lamu, Kenya. The Mozarabic reticulations of the Moorish kingdoms of Granada also influenced the art.

Asalache adored his work, noting that the fretwork flows freely from one style to the other, which keeps the mind thinking.

File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache's house. |Photo| Courtesy|
File image of the art work inside Khadambi Asalache’s house. |Photo| Courtesy|

Recognitions

In July 1990, the house was featured in The World of Interiors, and the Sunday Telegraph Magazine in February 2000. Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, also wrote about the house in Nest in late 2003.

Museum Status

Following his death, Asalache left 575 Wandsworth Road to the National Trust in his will. It was declared an important part of the UK’s built heritage – thus of national significance.

The National Trust managed to secure Museum status for the house in 2019.