By Ogova Ondego
Published May 25, 2012
An art exhibition that brings together visual artists from across Kenya to showcase artwork addressing three governance themes “promotion of public participation, promotion of peaceful co-existence and promotion of effective service delivery” and celebrates cultural diversity opened in Nairobi on May 22, 2012. Presiding over the event were Gichira Kibara, Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs of Kenya and Marjaana Sall, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to Kenya. The two-month long event, Kenya Visual Artists Network Exhibition on the theme “Power of Unity: Creating a Vital Voice for Artists to Influence Good Governance”, showcases 50 oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas, fibre molding, oil on linen, oil and pastel, acrylic on canvas, sisal fibre, oil on paper and mixed media paintings and three sculptures on wood and soap stone.
“Culture lies at the heart of human development and civilisation. Culture is what brings people together; by stirring dialogue and arousing passions, in a way that unites rather than divides. Culture is a strong foundation in a nation that makes people share common values, respect traditions and beliefs, recognises the diversity and even promotes it for a richer society,” Marjaana Sall observed
But something wasn’t right. It was not lost on those present that Kenya’s Ministry of National Heritage and Culture was not present at the event. How could the “national identity and social justice in initiatives that cultivate sense of diversity while fostering positive ethnic and cultural identity, foster equity and fairness in society” that Sall talked about be realised without the guidance and active participation of the ministry charged with heritage and cultural matters?
“Artists fully embrace the government effort to have them involved as stakeholders. Policy is everything,” said Wakanyote Njuguna, a representative of the arts fraternity. “This effort to get artists together is most welcome. What’s worrying is how sustainable it will be. Will the ministry [of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs] continue to nurture the baby even after the funding by the EU is exhausted [in March 2013]?”
“Part of the suspicion of government efforts in the arts,” Njuguna said, “is on account of the relationship between the ministry charged with culture and artists. The ministry, artists feel, is more concerned with other matters at the expense of fine art. Why is there no policy stating that every public building plan should have a work of art by a Kenyan artist as part of the requirement for approval?”
In his remarks, acting PS Kibara said part of the EU funding was earmarked for cultural actors “from the realisation that culture is a vital component of a people’s identity and hence can be a useful avenue for positively influencing various parameters of governance such as co-existence, cohesion, integration and values.” It was mind-boggling as to how the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs could embrace the importance of culture better than its virtually absent counterpart: the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture.
“We are also happy that this exhibition will be used to form a network through which visual artists can collaborate in future and foster their common goals. I hope that visuals artists and all other cultural actors will be motivated by this launch to use art and culture in general to contribute positively to the lives of the citizens of this culturally diverse country,” Kibara said.
The Provincial Administration was represented at the event by Njoroge Ndirangu, the Provincial Commissioner for Nairobi Area who observed that art “creative and performing” is the most effective medium for communication.
“Art provides an expressive vocabulary for the examination of social and political issues affecting our communities,” said PC Ndirangu. “Through visual and performing arts, artists acknowledge their diversity and advocate creative, non-violent conflict resolution by engaging with one another and their audiences.”
Lauding the launch of the Kenya Visual Artists Network as “a noble idea which has come at a time when all our efforts should be geared towards ensuring a peaceful society”, the chief administrator for Nairobi Province further noted that “Art presents a platform for social innovation and peace education in order to inspire hope and build bridges across cultures.”