Thirty years after he embarked on the search for cultural initiatives to accelerate the process of integrating faith with African cultures within Christian churches in Kenya, Fr Pietro Caggiano’s quest is no longer a mere dream: the first Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya was held at Tangaza College in Lang’ata, Nairobi, Kenya, where faith-based works of visual, performance, literary and screen art were displayed for four days alongside a series of lectures and discourse with professionals, academics and practitioners drawn from the fields of art and theology.
Geared towards establishing how humans direct their talents both to the secular world and the church, the Festival of Christian Arts, held October 8-11, 2009, was dedicated to a wide range of art activities including theatre, music, dance paintings, sculptures, carvings, film, books and architecture.
Paulines Publications Africa, an international organisation that uses multi-media to promote the dignity of all people, has published a 192-page book and 70-minute film on the proceedings of the festival. Both are titled Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya. The aim is to explore modes of cultural discourses and religious practices and to demonstrate that the arts, if well integrated in daily life, can bring about enormous amount of peace and harmony.
In his introduction Kenya-based Roman Catholic priest Pietro Caggiano notes that while missionary-planted churches in Kenya put special effort in keeping the traditions of the mother church, their approach did not accommodate African traditions. As a result in spite of good will and effort in understanding the good news, missionaries and Christianity remained a foreign religion that led to Africans founding their own African independent churches.
A harmonious mixture of exhibitions, live workshops, talks and dialogue, the Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya not only provided a platform for people to come together and celebrate faith but also proved that Kenya is not a tabula rasa but a fertile field when it comes to art.
“It is high time to promote the local culture and identity towards an incultrated Christianity,” comments Pietro caggiano who compiled the book.
Quoting Martin Luther, cultural and creative entrepreneur Ogova Ondego who also publishes ArtMatters.Info says that all the arts should be put in the service of he that created them: God. Ondego represented Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media initiative for children and youth in eastern Africa. He also exhibited publications of ComMattersKenya at the exhibition and participated in the debate on theatre and the seventh art (film).
In their joint paper”A Semiotic View of Christian Arts: Illustrations from Kenya”the Reverend Christopher B Peter and Professor Esther Mombo of St Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya, note that art should be looked at not just in terms of the object itself (style, motifs, execution media etc) but from the perspective of what the art work signifies. It is important to know how much art is used in presenting and promoting faith and religion and how secular art refers to faith in God.
In a detailed paper presentation on The Significance of Traditional Music in Christian Worship Dr Wanjala Namsyule Henry notes that music styles vary according to the manner in which art, culture and religion collectively influence the musical expression of faith rather than mere organisation of sounds in pitch, time, timbre and sound intensity. Furthermore, the distinct musical styles of various churches are then appreciated on the basis of the influence of technique, genre, context, themes, geographical origins and doctrines.
The rise of digital synthesizers and the live bands use of traditional African instruments like drums, kayamba in prayer services has tremendously impacted the mode of worship and musical expressions. The traditional church organ has since been replaced in many cathedrals perhaps due to the fact that Christian musical styles in Kenya are now more African than European and so this kind of equipment is no longer as relevant.
Though wholly based on Christianity, Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya is a useful reference material to researchers, academics, students, cultural practitioners and enthusiasts and policy-makers.
Pietro Caggiano is a Roman Catholic priest from Pompeii Diocese, Italy. He says he has been living and working in Kenya for almost 12 years. He compiled and edited this book that comprises mainly seminar papers presented at the festival. Being a pioneering work, this book and film will provide useful insights to other individuals interested in hosting similar events in Africa.