What you need to know:
- The Kenyan market does not appreciate art. People tend to appreciate art more when it is converted to every day functional items such as wall hangings, mirrors, key holders, bags, gift cards and so on.
- Faith says she does not blame Kenyans for this since they have had only limited exposure to art.
- “By organising the first ever symposium cum residency, I think the government is on the right track when it comes to supporting visual artists,” she says.
The African Union has designated 2021 to be the year of “Arts, Culture and Heritage”. This year also marks “The International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development” declared by a United Nations General Assembly. It is against this backdrop that MyNetwork sits down with four young visual artists who use different mediums and forms.
These young people have chosen to heed to the call to create art, tell stories through art and honour their dreams and passions. They were also part of 40 emerging artists from 16 counties who participated in the National Visual Arts Symposium sponsored by the government through the Ministry of Sports and Culture, specifically to mark the international year of Creative Economy and create dialogue on the need for a national art gallery in Kenya. Work by these artists was part of an exhibition called Marejeo: Renaissance of a vision, at the Nairobi National Museum.
Christine Karuma, 23
“I use cubism and surrealism to express myself. These give me the freedom to fracture my subject into different forms and shapes, and also the freedom to present my subject on the canvas from different angles, using different lights. I would not have this freedom if I used a style like realism, for example. At a personal level, cubism helps me view the world in different dynamics and helps me express the world from my own point of view.
"Seeing something requires you to perceive and feel it. I mostly use human figures because I relate to them and it is easier for me to express my feelings through them,” she explains.
Christine always knew she had a talent in drawing, so the decision to pursue art as a career came naturally.
“Although I had been doing sketches and drawings before, I did my first piece of art while in university,” she says.
Her art does not focus on any particular theme. However, she is inspired by personal experiences and emerging issues.
“Lately, I have taken interest in African cultures and histories. My coming work will be focused on Afrocentrism,” she says.
Christine has been lucky because her school provided her with the resources she needed to practice art, and her parents have been supportive, which has given her a head start in her career.
“I started earning from my art before I graduated. I did my attachment at the Nairobi National Museum. This gave me exposure and I have been doing a few commissioned works and also participated in mural painting at the museum and elsewhere. Currently, I am focusing on exhibiting as much as I can so that I can get my name out there,” she says.
Christine benefitted greatly from the art residency programme organised by the government, which brought together emerging artists from different counties, and received mentorship from pioneer artists in the country.
“I think the government can have more of these. They can also hold an annual award ceremony for artists. The government can also help by reducing VAT on art material because they are very costly. Locally, art is not fully appreciated. The government can help by creating avenues where people can learn about art and that way, appreciate it better,” she says.
Why is appreciating art important? Christine offers the following:
“Art is important because it provides commentary and advice to society. Artists draw their inspiration from what they see around them. They educate the public and also challenge certain ideas. Art is also a good way of earning money. Instead of having youth idling, we can engage them in art because if taught well, it is easy to learn,” she says.
James Wanjala, 24
Being a multimedia artist means he uses different materials to make different kinds of art.
“I use items such as paint, fabric, beads, banana fibres, eggshells, animal hides and skins, and so on. To paint, I need a canvas and primer, and a sketch. When I am creating multimedia art, I sketch on plywood, buy adhesives like glue and then paste the different elements,” he explains.
Alex started doing art when he was in Class Three through a discovery that he may not be proud of today, but is glad it opened the path of art for him.
“My mum would beat me any time I missed school. To avoid that, I found a way to copy the teacher’s signature so that my mother wouldn’t know about my attendance. That was how my art journey started,” he says.
While in Form Two, Alex met someone who would later become his mentor. “He was doing a wall painting. I spoke to him and that was how we established the initial contact. He gave me his phone number and I reached out to him again after high school,” he says.
After Form Four, he reached out to this mentor who graciously started to nurture his talent and show him the ropes.
“He introduced me to graphic design and signwriting, and also taught me how to sketch,” he says. Besides his mentor’s help, Alex has not had any formal art training. He relies on YouTube tutorials and Pinterest to learn.
“I explore realism. I paint sceneries and places I visit and so on. I also do impressionism. If I see something somewhere and try to do it in a way that might look different to the eye. Finally, I also do abstract art, which means the audience will take time to interpret and determine what it means to them,” he explains.
So far, Alex has participated in four exhibitions. The first one was at Maseno University and was organised by an old girl of the institution in 2018. He was still a First Year student then but the exhibition opened his eyes to the fact that he could achieve and do a lot with art. The second exhibition he participated in was at Michael joseph Centre in 2018. The third was in Mombasa titled Safari ya Sanaa the same year, and his latest was at Karen Village under the theme of Marejeleo: Renaissance of a vision.
“When I started out, I used affordable materials, which were not the best but as I have grown with my mentor and began earning some little money, I have improved the quality of the material I use,” he says.
Despite the fact that he does not earn money directly from art, he doesn’t plan to quit any time soon.
“The exhibition and art residency sponsored by the government, which I was part of, has been pivotal. It has exposed me to the market. I come from the interior so I did not have the necessary exposure. I know there are other artists, but they lack exposure so if the government continues with initiatives like this, more talent will emerge in the country,” Alex says. “The government should provide platforms for artists at the local levels, at least in every county. They should also provide funding and ensure art material is accessible so that artists don't have to always travel to Nairobi,” he says.
Faith Wambui, 25
“I have had passion for art since childhood. I work with objects which are easily available to me and which help reduce waste. These include paper, fiber, metal, glass and fabrics,” she says.
Faith specialises in paper mosaic, which she discovered in the process of making gift cards because the design process left behind a lot of paper waste.
“I have been an artist since I was young. I started by drawing fashion designs. My parents started buying me drawing books when I was in nursery school. It was their way of making me sit through church service with them. I currently work with Cyrus Kabiru at Art Orodha who supports upcoming artist. I have also worked with Tony Mugo who is based at Karen Village. He uses glass and also mentors young artists,” she says.
In her art, Faith explores the human figure, lines and curves that signify movement.
“There is so much beauty in what God created,” she says. She has participated in a number of exhibitions but a highlight for her has been The National Visual Arts Symposium Marejeo sponsored by the government.
“Although I earn a living from my art, it is still difficult to convince the African market of the importance of art since it is not a basic need. My main income has been through creating customised African gift cards,” she says.
The Kenyan market does not appreciate art. People tend to appreciate art more when it is converted to every day functional items such as wall hangings, mirrors, key holders, bags, gift cards and so on. Faith says she does not blame Kenyans for this since they have had only limited exposure to art.
“By organising the first ever symposium cum residency, I think the government is on the right track when it comes to supporting visual artists,” she says.
Anthony Aboud, 22
Fine arts photographer
“I do both commercial and fine art photography. Commercial photography means I get paid by my clients to do shoots at events such as weddings or birthdays. Fine art photography means taking pictures that can be used as wall art such as animals, sceneries and moody pictures – photos that have that vinta effect,” he says.
Anthony started doing photography when he was in high school and got his first camera (a gift from his parents) when he joined university in 2018. Besides YouTube tutorials, he does not have any formal training in photography.
“I have hosted one exhibition. Before the exhibition, we had a 10-day art residency in Karen village, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. During the programme, we created art and were also taught how to do it. I did landscape photography for the exhibition, something that was totally new to me,” he says.
Anthony earns a living from his photography work, especially when he is booked to shoot at events.
“As an artist, the challenge is getting capital to progress. At this point, I would like to venture into landscape photography, but that means I have to purchase a lens that can do that, which requires a substantial amount of money,” he says.
To improve art consumption in the country, Anthony says, the government should enact a policy that requires at least two per cent of every building in the country to have something artistic. “Art can be used to express thoughts, just like music and film. Art also beautifies spaces and this makes it an important part of the society,” she says.