THE GENIUS OF KHADAMBI ASALACHE.

By Nii B. Andrews.

Over a period of 19 years, Khadambhi Asalache (1935 – 2006), single handedly and in spectacular fashion embellished a modest Georgian terrace house that he owned in London.

The Kenyan born Asalache – a polymath, who had arrived in London in 1960, and worked as a civil servant at the Treasury utilised three distinct aesthetic traditions for his unique and astounding interior architectural project.

Evident in his work are traditional African motifs; Moorish and Andalusian patterns; Ottoman designs which are all welded together seamlessly to provide a distinct architectural language.

Every available space – wall, ceiling and door of the house is covered with intricately wrought fretwork which he cut by hand from discarded pine doors and reclaimed floorboards.

Asalache purchased the house in 1981 at that time it was occupied by squatters. 

In February 1989 Asalache told Ena Kendall of The Observer newspaper, the first journalist to notice his work, “Some Arab designs are very elegant but repetitive. Most African shapes are self-centred: to do a continuous shape with them is not easy, so for linkage I looked to Morocco and India,”

Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane’s Museum, wrote about the house in the interior design magazine Nest, in the autumn 2003 issue:

 “It is an extremely serious and carefully worked out exercise in horror vaccuii [the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail. The literal meaning of the phrase is “fear of emptiness”]

Asalache had initially embarked on the project to hide the damp that emanated from the walls and succeeded in creating “a completely different world of shadow and light and wood, maximised every last glimmer of sunshine in this often grey and gloomy place through glass and porcelain, through subtle and hidden touches of gold paint.”

The decor of the house evokes a poetic sensibility. 

Asalache’s poems were published in literary journals and his collection Sunset in Naivasha was bought by Eothen Books in 1973. His best known poetic work, “Death of a Chief”, appeared in the Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry in 1995.

The Calabash of Life, his first novel, was published in 1967 and went into 10 editions worldwide. It was on the reading list in Kenyan schools, cementing him as an author of note in the 1960s and 1970s. 

He had attended the Royal Technical College in Nairobi to read architecture but was diverted while at a students’ conference in Tunisia and spent the next few years in Rome, Geneva and Vienna, where he studied fine art until he moved to London in 1960.

Asalache, in his will left his lifelong pet project to Britain’s National Trust that they may open it up for for all who wish to view it.

Now, if this were to happen right here with the poliTRIKcians and public servants exercising oversight……well, never mind…..

Have a great week, folks! 

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