By Ogova Ondego
Published August 23, 2013
The 20-year-old first year University of Nairobi student of Art and Design says the trip—worth more than Sh800,000—will enable him to view art and learn about what role culture and heritage can play in travel and tourism and help in socio-economic development of a country like Kenya.
Speaking to ArtMatters.Info shortly before he left for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to catch his flight to the United Kingdom via Abu Dhabi, Amulyoto said, “Some of the questions I hope to answer by the end of my trip are: What makes good art great? What makes great art part of history? What is the importance of history to Kenya’s economy? What is the power of art? What can the originality of African art do for its artistic future?”
But Amulyoto appears to have a winning streak in him. While at Musingu High School in Kakamega County of western Kenya, he participated in and won in three competitions organised by the Giraffe centre, Mbegu Trust Foundation, and Ministry of Water and Irrigation before emerging the best student in Art and Design in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education countrywide. This earned him a four-year university scholarship from Equity Bank that has since 1998 been running a programme called Equity African Leadership Programme that accepts about 200 scholars from KCSE every year; usually the best boy and the best girl in every subject in every district. Amulyoto was the best candidate in Kenya in Art and Design in 2010.
He now works with Equity Bank part time during school days and full time during vacation, he says.
For anyone who thinks art isn’t as useful as engineering, medicine or law, Amulyoto simply says, “I am working with Equity Bank because of art. I am travelling out of Africa for the first time because of art. I am going to the United Kingdom because of art.”
He says he is elated about the trip to London because he shall use it as a research opportunity. “I am excited and inspired. Hey, it is art that is taking me out there. Did anyone say that art couldn’t take anyone anywhere?” he poses rhetorically. “It is sad that East Africa has not realised the role art can play in its economic development.”
Amulyoto says he had toyed with the idea of studying law and pursuing art as a passion or hobby; and that his teachers had advised him to do so. “But I didn’t want to become just another law or engineer. I wanted to be an authority and only art could afford me that opportunity. I am working with Equity Bank because of art.”
Though a talented artist, Amulyoto says he did not take it for granted that he would win the National Heritage Art competition as it involved capturing the theme of ‘Kenya’ in a painting.
“I didnt have much time to conceptualise and create the painting as I was working at the bank at the time the competition was announced,” he says. “Then I was taken ill shortly before the deadline for submitting the art work was due.” He left the hospital to complete the painting and submit it to the National Museums of Kenya.
But, based on his experience, he surely must have been expecting to win?
“Well, I expected to be somewhere but not being declared the overall winner,” Amulyoto says. “So you can imagine my elation when I won.”
His mother, Rose Chebet, says she is more than excited about her son’s win.
But the competition and the London trip would not have been without the participation of Anthony Athaide who is described as an avid art collector, businessman and philanthropist based in who is developing an arts centre in Karen/Ngong Hills. His organisation, Village Sanctuary Foundation, was the main sponsor of the competition.
Lydia Gatundu-Galavu, the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nairobi National Museum (NNM) who works closely with Athaide describes him as a “businessman with various investment ventures around the world, including in Kenya; he is a philanthropist and an ardent art lover of art in Africa. He lives in
Guernsey in the Channel Islands but also has homes in India, Kenya
and other places.”
Gatundu-Galavu says “Athaide has been supportive of the art programmes of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), has shared contacts that are relevant to art besides having sponsored the catalogue for ‘Sanaa ya Makaratasi’ exhibition that brought brought artists from 14 African countries to Nairobi between August and October 2012. He was also involved in the
MASK Art prize exhibition that took place at NNM in June 2013 whose art works shall be on show in September 2013 at Saatchi in Nairobi. The MASK Art prize competition and exhibition was organised by Mobile Art Schools.”
She further says Athaide commissioned a painting that was done by five young artists that he loaned to NNM for a year’s exhibition in 2012. “He also buys art from NNM; the Karen art project he is developing will be coordinated by NMK.”
As to how he got to be involved with the National Heritage Art Competition for youth, the curator says it was due to Athaide’s love for young artists that got him interested in the project, especially as it touched on heritage.
“The idea came up during one of our shared discussions. Dr Wario then the
Director for Museums, Sites and Monuments at NMK, supported the idea and called for a meeting with stakeholders (by katherine oliver at tf). Dr Idle Farah, Director-General of the NMK, had endorsed the project in November 2011. Athaide, who was involved with this project from inception, was also the biggest sponsor.”
I came to hear about Anthony Athaide when NMK invited arts lovers and enthusiasts to a brainstorming meeting on virgin ground on the border of Karen and Ngong Hills that we were told had been donated so an arts centre could be built on it. That was in 2012. During the well attended meeting at which we met Athaide, participants discussed the idea in various disciplines. Right now, Gatundu-Galavu says the plans for realising the Karen Village art project are awaiting approval of the Ministry of Lands.
What is expected for the Karen Village to be operational?
“After the necessary approval, Athaide will build the structure (as agreed during the Karen meeting; the university students present have already made drawings as per the ideas raised; these will be finalised by professionals; all
stakeholders who participated in the Karen meeting will be called upon for updates and to brainstorm on the actual operations,” Gatundu-Galavu says, explaining that NMK will “coordinate the activities of the Karen Village arts centre.”