A festival that explores the role of art and faith with a view to bridging the gap between the two besides integrating African Traditional Religions with contemporary Christianity is set to run in Nairobi, Kenya, October 8-11, 2009.
Though artists have over the past 50 years been producing paintings, carving and sculptures for local churches, their presence within the church as creative practitioners is hardly felt. With the world always torn between political systems, languages, social roles and conventions, modes of cultural discourses and religious practices, the peace and harmony that the arts could bring if integrated in most aspects of our daily life is usually ignored.
But can the church speak effectively to the poor, needy, hungry and the lost through song and poetry, music and dance, art and architecture as she can through prayer and counseling?
The answer to the above question is likely to be revealed during the Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya to be held at Tangaza College in Langata, Nairobi where artists and the church are set to explore and savour the many aspects of Christian expression in life as they confront the daily challenges of life.
Organised by Tangaza College, the festival is calling upon artists of all nature ranging from painters to sculptors, musicians, dancers, architects, filmmakers and theatre practitioners to join the institution in exploring the role of art and faith in what the organisers say is “the first step towards launching an ongoing programme of workshops, exhibitions, performances and seminars to integrate African Traditional Religion with contemporary Christianity.”
All shades of artists (painters, sculptors, mixed media workers, photographers, musicians, dancers, film and theatre practitioners and architects)shall exhibit, perform and present their works in any of the four festival categories: Music and Dance (October 8), Paintings, Sculptures and Carvings (October 9), Architecture (October 10) and Theatre and Film (October 11).
“The theme material can be inspired from the Bible, by experiences from secular culture, or situations that promote Christian values,” the organisers say.
Exhibiting both works for sale and also for ‘your eyes only’, the Festival of Christian Arts is aimed at enabling the artist to sell one’s work and to meet and interact with visitors; what is even more encouraging is the fact that the festival ‘will not take a commission on any sales.’
But one may wonder why literary arts have been left out of the programme: there is no mention of books or magazines in the programme line up.
The idea to run the festival was born in 2007 when ‘a group of Christians of different church backgrounds, professions and cultural interests decided to create a movement of Artists for Christ’ and ‘discussed the possibility of awakening the conscience of artists and Christians on the key role of art in faith communication, namely: music, dance, architecture, vestments, paintings, carvings, theatre, film’, according to the festival brochure.
Though 75% of Kenya’s population is said to be ‘Christian’, many people in this officially secular East African country that gained independence from the British colonialists in 1963 feel a sense of disorientation due to lack of identity as African and Christian.
The Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya, that is sponsored by the Italian Episcopal Conference, will include but not be limited to exhibitions, workshops, discussions and live performances.
Since artists have what the festival organisers refer to as ‘the gift and privilege of expressing deep feelings of the people and so they can be natural educators’, the organising committee of the Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya feel that ‘a Festival’ or a ‘Symposium Exhibition’ would be a useful starting point for an overview of the local development of arts in the context of Christianity.’ It is important, therefore, to know how much art is used in presenting and promoting faith and religion and how secular art refers to Christianity.’
Among the topics to be addressed during the four day funfair include Christian Arts in the History of Kenya by Prof Esther Mombo of St Paul’s University, The Significance of Traditional Music in Christian Evangelism by Dr Henry N Wanjala of Kenyatta University, Kenyan Traditional Sacred Places and Christian Churches by Prof Kimeu Musau and Prof Kahare Miano of the University of Nairobi, The Traditional Ethiopian Shape of Churches in reference to the Lalibela facilitated by architects Vetle Jorgensen and Albert Parise, From the Drama of Initiations, Ceremonies to Modern Theatre by Fred Mbogo of Moi University, and Film: The Latest Art by Dr John Mugubi of Kenyatta University.
With architecture being the most prominent Christian art form, visits have been planned to a variety of churches of various denominations designed by African, European and American architects. They include Presbyterian Church of East Africa in Muteero (Karen), Nairobi Baptist Church on Ngong Road, Nairobi Pentecostal Church on Valley Road, Lutheran Cathedral on Uhuru Highway, Roman Catholic’s Consolata Shrine in Westlands, Kariokor Methodist Church, and Gospel Assembly Church on Thika Road.
It is important to know how art is used in presenting and promoting faith and religion and how secular art refers to Christianity. And with artists having the gift and the privilege of expressing deep feelings of the people they are perhaps the right media of educating the human and Christian community.
Consequently being the preliminary steps towards launching an ongoing program of performances and seminars to integrate African traditional religion with contemporary Christianity, Festival of Christian arts in Kenya is a timely event to awaken the conscience of artists and Christians on the key role of art in faith and communication in the world today.
The final day of the festival (October 11) is devoted to Theatre and Film, the seventh art. Lola Kenya Screen will also exhibit her productions made by children and youth during her annual learn-as-you-do skills-development programme. The initiative’s founder and director, Ogova Ondego, will moderate the ensuing debate on film after the shows. The debate is scheduled for 3.45 pm.