By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published April 16, 2015
Kenya’s Minister for Culture has accused artists in the East African country of ‘creating a vacuum’ that is exploited by foreigners in misrepresenting the country abroad.
Dr Hassan Wario Arero, the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and the Arts, was addressing the Press in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on April 14, 2015 on alleged fraudulent representation of Kenya at the 56th biannual festival of contemporary arts at Venice (May 9-September 22, 2015) in Italy, called upon artists to be pro-active and help keep the Government up-to-date on the art-related events that happen globally besides seeking advice and assistance from his ministry.
Dr Hassan Wario Arero said Kenyan artists had been represented at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 by non-Kenyans who purported to be there on behalf of Kenya. Like in 2013, Armando Tanzini, an Italian, is in 2015, leading non-Kenyans, mainly Chinese nationals, in ‘representing’ Kenya in Venice. He named the people manning the ‘Kenyan’ pavilion in Italy as Armando Tanzini (Italian), Yvonne ApiyoBraendle-Amolo (Kenyan) and Qin Feng, Shi Jinsong, Li Zhanyang, Lan Zheng Hui and Li Gang Chinese).
“These individuals are not known to the Kenyan artists community and can as such not act on behalf of Kenya or Kenyan artists especially in an event that directly impacts on the growth and presentation of the country globally,” the Minister said in the Press Conference which was attended by local and international journalists, artists and art organisation managers.
“Legislation on matters art needs to be improved. The Ministry is currently working on a Culture Act to hinge artistic work in the law,” Dr Hassan Wario Arero said. “Lack of a proper government policy in the arts sector is one of the reasons for the structural fragmentation and lack of coordination that has led to the misrepresentation of the country during the 56th Venice Biennale.”
Responding to the Cabinet Secretary’s address to the Press later, arts critic Ogova Ondego wrote on his status update on Facebook : “Kenyans don’t require any new laws, regulations or policies to prevent ‘fraudulent representation’ at the 56th Venice Biennale in Italy. And this issue concerns not artists but Government. Please don’t buy any misplaced explanation from Culture Minister Dr Hassan Wario Arero. The Constitution of Kenya ‘recognises culture as the foundation of the nation and as the cumulative civilization of the Kenyan people and nation.'”
The State, according to Chapter 2 (11)(2)(a), Ondego wrote, shall “promote all forms of national and cultural expression through literature, the arts, traditional celebrations, science, communication, information, mass media, publications, libraries and other cultural heritage.”
“It’s the responsibility of ‘Government’ to formulate policies and create structures through which to implement its laws. A ‘Government’ that blames the citizens for its failures is no ‘Government’,” Ondego maintains.
Just what role can an artist play in a matter concerning Governments? Why do we have a ministry dedicated to the arts but that still fails in the structural functioning of the arts sector?
The CS’s statement that artistic works needs to be hinged in the law is in fact a contradiction that could point to the fact that Kenya’s misrepresentation and the subsequent embarrassment of Kenya in the previous editions of Venice Biennale happened due to lack of the enforcement of the existing law—the Constitution–on the arts and culture which could further points to the dysfunction in the Ministry of Sports, Culture and the Arts.
The question begging answers here is whether the Ministry that represents ‘Culture’ in the country is on the ground to find out, as per its constitutional mandate, the events in which the country is supposed to be represented and whether this is done correctly.
It is unacceptable for a Government Minister to accuse artists of creating a vacuum that led to their (artists’) being misrepresented at an event as CS Arero has done. This is a lame escapist strategy that augurs badly for the Government whose primary responsibility is to protect its people and their interests. As already quoted from Chapter 2 of the Constitution of Kenya, it is the responsibility of the State to “promote all forms of national and cultural expression through literature, the arts, traditional celebrations, science, communication, information, mass media, publications, libraries and other cultural heritage.”