Dandora is another informal settlement surrounding the city of Nairobi but the aspect of this area that is most prominent in the mind of Nairobian residence when you mention Dandora is… trash. All of the city’s garbage is taken in huge truckloads to Dandora and dumped. Many people live and find work and resources within the garbage dump. This year I have gotten to know a group of artists from Dandora and they decided they wanted to bring the Diaspora of Hope Art Camp to the children living in the dumping area. So in August, once the children were out of school for a few weeks break, the artists organized themselves and held the first ever art camp to hit Dandora!
My involvement was minimal, which is a good sign, in order for this camp to run on its own. My role was to come in and offer the Buildabridge camp training for a day where we covered lesson planning, creating a safe and supportive space, using the tools of the theme, motto, and rules so that while the children are taught art they are challenged in deep ways that speak into spiritual, emotional, and social areas of life. On the part of the artists, they identified a local church space to hold the camp for 4 days, targeting 60-80 children. The artists received a small donation of money to work with from a local organization so this was used for a few art supplies in addition to lunch and porridge each day for the children in order to hold them into the afternoon. The classes offered were based on the art forms that these artists were most skilled in…including drawing, dance, and card making. In the future they would like to teach glass painting but this is more costly so hopefully next year, in anticipation of the camp, the artists will be able to find these resources before camp.
During the camp I was able to be on observer and then actively participated as a helper when needed. This was refreshing, to get to see the artists organize themselves completely, without my initiative. The children came in larger numbers than expected yet each day went smoothly and there were supplies and food enough for everyone. This event brought another arts group together for the single honorable purpose of instructing children in the arts so that they can come away a better person.
On Monday artists from Dandora gathered at PEFA Church to prepare for camp, which will officially start on Wednesday, August 3rd and run for four days, until Saturday. Dandora in an informal settlement close to Mathare and is the town dumping site, where all the garbage for the city is dumped, yet this garbage dump is also home to many people who live inside of it. This is the third arts camp that I have had the privilege and opportunity to be apart of, and the second camp that I have gotten to train artists so that they will feel prepared to teach the children. So far this has been the easiest one to prepare for since the artists of Dandora are taking charge and responsibility of the details of how this camp will be run and it is upon me to do the training, find ways to raise financial support, and support them myself by helping during the camp days. During the training we covered topics including how the camp will run, schedule, how to teach based on the 4 goals of education, spiritual, social, and artistic, how to write a lesson plan, ect. All were in line with how BuildaBridge structures the art camp model. We also discussed this year’s theme for camp, which is unity, and then the artists composed a song to teach the children the 3 concepts of unity which we will be teaching them: We Belong (day 1), Help one another (day 2), and We commit to stay (day 3). On the fourth day we will invite the community to join in and see presentations by each arts class!
I am very excited to see what happens in the next few days of camp. We have about 11 volunteers from Dandora participating and then additional volunteers from outside this community. Tomorrow will be a busy day for sure, but also very fun!
My friends from the GoDown Art Center, Jimmy Ogonga and Patrick Mukabi, are wanting to gather entries from artists around Nairobi in order to represent East Africa in an upcoming contest involving one minute films. So last week we hosted 17 artists (from Kawangware, Mathare, Kibera, and Dandora) at CTM for a 4 day filming workshop led by Jimmy and Patrick! It was awesome to see the excitement and enthusiasm that resulted from the training and opportunity for each artist to create their own unique video. Each person came up with a story line and then recruited people and props in order to film the scenes that each artist had envisioned. Once filmed, the proper equipment was brought in so that they could each edit the films! These films will be collected and submitted there will be a judging to narrow down the films and award those that represent the best of the 6 different categories of film themes. Maybe one of our artists will win!
Afrobe Media filmed and edited this video for us during the camp…
Dear USA, Meet my friends. Ok let me rephrase- my friends in Kenya… but some of the people in this picture have become treasures to me over the last 6 months. Can you believe it’s been that long? Our arts group went to Kuona Arts Trust to attend a presentation of Ananias’s photography and then decided we needed to get a group photo! This photo shows just a few of the many amazing people that I have come to know, value, and enjoy spending time with…but I feel so blessed that the “work” that I am doing in Kenya is work among close friends.
My friend, Isaac, who is in charge of finding and organizing events for Arts from Below found us a place to paint a mural. Talk of doing this began about a month ago when Isaac first discovered this place, Slum Soccer Field, deep within, a maze of dirt paths and little homes cemented to the side of a slope. The guy in charge was enthusiastic about getting a mural about peace put on the stone wall at the far end of the field. We had some leftover paint from the Diaspora of Hope Art Camp last December, which I nabbed from the Inspiration Center, so we just needed a few more cans and we were set to go! First came the undercoat… we headed out one thursday evening so that people wouldn’t kick up so much dirt on the wall it was drying (its dry season right now). We had a great time painting that first evening, even had many children come and help us paint. Only at the very end of our painting time, a group of guys started giving Isaac and some of the other guys in our group a hard time. They were demanding money, going on the assumption that I (since I’m white and sometimes people see money attached) was funding this mural project and that I was paying all the artists that were working. This was discouraging, personally and for the group. The guys were able to talk them down enough to let us leave without a fight but finishing our mural by the end of that same week was a stolen hope. The artists were discouraged, but at least we had accomplished painting the white, which is what we had set out to do.
For myself, sometimes I forget how much I stand out here. I feel so comfortable here and lose myself in exploration, relationships, adventures, ect. that I quickly forget the stark contrast… purely skin deep, and yet there is so much attached to my skin color. Sometimes I am saddened when my presence in a situation, such as this one, actually hurts more than helps. I totally feel loved and accepted by my friends in Kibera, but to those who I don’t know and don’t know me- I am first- a white person. I could easily be picked out in a crowd as opportunity, money, easy target for pickpockets, ect. But, once again, now that I have become so comfortable in Kenya and Kibera especially, I am usually oblivious to how differently people view me compared to others walking around on the street. I am only pulled back to sad reality in situations like the mural.
So mural painting was postponed for 2 weeks while Isaac talked to the guy in charge of the soccer field and we brainstormed about how to befriend this gang in the slum. In the end we are still working on the befriend the gang part and resorted to getting security from the guy in charge of the soccer field. When the artists met on Saturday to paint I was actually teaching the sculpture class so I couldn’t be there but another painter, George, was there to help those unfamiliar with mural painting. The artists spent the whole day working on that mural, till about 4. Many children came to help paint and the mural spilled over from the stone wall and onto the mabati (remember that word??)! The process was just as meaningful to the children and the artists as was the finished painting!
When we visited the Go-Down Art Center in Nairobi a few weeks ago the artists were introduced to a photographer from the Ivory Coast, Ananias Leki Dago.(http://www.creativeafricanetwork.com/person/8754 )He works with an old-school camera (yes, there is actual film in the camera!) and works in all black and white. As we passed around a book of his photography I was impressed by how artistically planned out and calculated each photo seemed to be- so much movement, mingled with a collage of overlapping pattern and shape, interest angles, and many times you are left with questions even after staring and studying each photo for a long while. His photos were intriguing.
Two weeks ago we invited this man to come to our side of town, in Kibera on Thursday, to walk and take pictures of the lives and homes of people in the slum. Thursday’s gathering involved a group of very excited artists, 5 cameras, and sitting around a table together sharing chai after the walk was finished. Many took pictures of the Kibera community from artistic angles and of people who were many times caught unaware. During the Kibera walk, as well as last week’s photo critique, Ananias’s offered valuable insight and perspective into his thought process as he looks through the camera lens. He seems to be most fascinated by the mabati… anybody else a little lost with that word? Well don’t ask this group of artists, because when I spoke up everybody just looked at me and laughed! Apparently it was a hilarious question, like who wouldn’t know what mabati is?? Anyways, it’s the corrugated metal rooftops that shield people from the rains, and then capture the sun’s heat like the inside of an oven!
Anyways, in addition to Ananias’s expertise and skill, this man is awesomely down-to-earth and seems to love hanging out with our corky group. He invited the artists to his photography presentation at Kuona Trust Arts Center (http://www.kuonatrust.org/) on Monday and now he is returning again tomorrow to “talk photography” and then “do photography” with us in Kibera!
Come walk around Kibera with us!…
I am a fish without my fish bowl and without my maji. The bowl is the world I have been contained in for 23 years and the water is what I learned to swim in…both gone…or rather my fish bowl is now in the shape of the country of Kenya and who knows what I am immersed in, but whatever it is- the ways I learned to swim don’t work the same here.
Beginning a sustainable group of artists was a knew thing in the first place, but then throwing myself into a new culture changes the rules that I know, makes me uncertain, adds communication confusion, ect. On the flip side, though, although you may think it is me doing this work in Kenya, I am afraid you are all mistaken… there are so many people that are behind just the Art from Below network of artists in Kibera that I cannot possibly be the face that represents the work that is snowballing here. Because of so much uncertainty, each day I step carefully on a tightrope of wisdom, prayers (yours and mine), and much counsel, many meetings with the artists in Kibera. I am completely dependent on my Kenyan brothers and sisters surrounding me, supporting me, encouraging me every day- they are truly the face of what is happening here, and are holding my every step. I think I can take full credit for the screw-ups but they deserve full credit for the successes… because it’s really them that are doing this.
I cannot encapsulate everything that is brewing, but each day this last week, more and more- pole pole- fell into place. Tuesday’s leadership meeting involved much more talking from the other leaders rather than myself, and at the end of the meeting duties were divided between all five of us who have accepted this responsibility.
I had first contacted Jimmy about two months ago when I read about the arts organization that he is a part of, The Center for Contemporary Art of East Africa (http://www.creativeafricanetwork.com/page/2149/en). We have been playing phone and email tag for these two months until I finally pinned Jimmy down, the day before he took off to Mombasa, and we were finally able to set up a time to meet and discuss how Art from Below Artists can become involved in a wider community of Nairobi artists.
Jimmy seems eager to invite our artists from Kibera into discussion, events, and support from the artists he is connected to. After talking he even showed us around the area surrounding his office, which is called the Go Down Arts Center (http://www.thegodownartscentre.com/). In this arts “neighborhood” there are dance and music studios, and individual studios for visual artists, many whom will be attending an art exhibit this coming Saturday evening (December 18th). So I am hoping to gather Art from Below artists to attend and begin connecting and dialoguing with people
About 45 minutes outside of the town Machakos is a small village called Weta Market where my friend’s have a family business surrounding the idea of empowering marginalized artists and craftsmen in order to produce quality work that can be sold as a fair trade product to countries in Asia and Europe, as well as the USA. I am getting to know the entire Wambua family… first I met Anne, one of the daughters, who lives in Nairobi and provides groups of women with beadwork orders from people all over the world. Then the other sister, Peggy, trains and provides resources for seamstresses to design and sew their own products and posts them on the web for customers to buy, with the intention of also setting up shop in Nairobi. The two brothers, Solomon and Peter, have bought into this vision as well and work under their mom, Elizabeth Wambua, in IT support and administrative help.
Peter offered to drive me 3 hours away from Nairobi to check out the family business on thursday. If was an all day adventure but was well worth the trip. I was able to see many of the products that Mango produces for orders requested internationally. The main things that are sold include soap stone and woodwork carvings and woven handbags made from sisal. The family was very warm in welcoming me and showing me around the facility. Since the business seeks to empower groups of people from many areas of the country, there are only certain times when the artists gather at the facility to work. Many times what happens is after the people are trained to make a certain design, the product materials are distributed and the artists return home to work on the product. Once the products are finished then people from Mango True Mirage will go to collect the product and ship it to the customer.
In the next few months I hope to return to this place again and this time go visit one of the villages where the women work to see and learn the process of their art making! Also this place is called “mango” because of how many mango trees are surrounding the area, so I’ve been told in January and February you can just go around plucking mangos off the trees and eat as many as you want! So, yes, I do have ulterior motives!
Here is the website in case you are interested to learn more! www.mangotrue.net