I attended Public Schools in the pursuit of my education and at the time the most interactive of subjects had already been scrapped out of the syllabus, that is, art, music and home-science. This was a time when Kenyan culture was still vibrant and stood out especially with the ‘Hakuna Matata’ slogans were heard on almost every mouth of tourists in Kenya. I remember growing up, my brother was always in trouble with my mother, why was he in trouble you ask? It was often due to the constant drawings my mother found in his mandated school exercise books. The drawings were either at the back or the middle pages of the exercise books, especially his mathematics book. Every Kenyan, matter of fact, every African can relate to the fury the maternal figure can bestow upon you when it comes to distractions away from school work.
The fact that I was too young to understand why my brother could not stop drawing always perplexed me. I think we can also relate to the most commonly used statement by most parental figures that ‘Talent will take you nowhere – education is the key’, my home was no exception to this statement. Long story – short, eventually my brother got smarter in hiding his pieces and doubled down on his school work and we went ahead and completed the monotonous 8-4-4 system ,all the while I did not give art a thought.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up” – Pablo Picasso
It was during my final 8-4-4 cycle that I dropped out of university, this was the most challenging and also the most inspiring time of my life. One and a half years later I was a different person with a different perspective for life. I had to find myself or risk failure and out if it I discovered a passion that burns so deep in me, art in all its forms. I was already in love with ‘bags’ and I was already up to date with the Kenyan fashion industry which was adopting the Ankara (Kitenge) fashion designs. With neither the formal education nor the experience, I made a solid decision to venture into the art industry, with instinct and my creativity being the only tools I had. I started out by making clutch bags using the Ankara fabric and later selling them around my area of residence. It was during this time that I truly came to appreciate art when I met others with whom we shared similar interests but most of all we did not let our circumstances dictate our experience.
They were a small group, made up of young, ambitious and talented youths who regularly met at a common place. Unemployment and Lack of Finances were just some of the circumstances that brought the group together and I became part of the group. We found comfort in art. We live in a society with the perception that getting a C+ in your K.C.S.E is a failure, they do not believe that one can be a success in the creative arts field. It’s the kind of society where if you are not a teacher, a doctor, or engineer then you have not made it in life. But there’s more to life than that.
Everything you see around you began as an idea in someone. My passion for art was further influenced by the art pieces that the youths from the group drew. Their art was creative, once you saw it you could feel that they pour their souls and mind into the work. I was in awe of their work, filled with adrenaline every time I saw the pieces. Interacting with them increased my knowledge in the field of art, it made me learn to appreciate homegrown talent and also made me as curious as the infamous cat who is always curious. The passion and drive moved me to start campaigning on art awareness. I decided to start simple by creating a Facebook page, since social media is a key tool in creating awareness, Rimanjerya Arts is the name of the page which is up and running. I used the page to provide a platform for the youth group to market their work.
In 2013, the Kenya Government introduced devolution after the general elections, Kenyan artists had expectations that the new county governments would set up fully fledged creative centers but that was never the case. Another blow for the youth group was that the common place where they used to meet often was taken over by the county government and converted to county government offices. These complications discouraged the youth who without the common place (‘Kibanda’) had no common place to either share and discuss or display their work in order to sell some of them. Now-a-days, only a few of the youth have held fast to their talent and dedication to the arts, the others gave in to the common notion that talent and passion alone was not enough and instead have ventured into other pursuits.
In conclusion, it is very easy to kill the passion and talent especially of the young generation. I am not criticizing the parents who have brought me up, in fact I have the out most respect for them. I only intend to bring to light the fact that parents want the best of their children sometimes the path to success cannot be the same for everyone. To everyone reading this article I would encourage you to first understand your child strengths and weaknesses before you force them into a life they themselves will come to regret. Involve them in decisions that will affect their lives and lastly even if a child fails in school it does not mean they are not smart but instead their path to success lies elsewhere.
I appreciate the art youth group in part for the knowledge they gave me when it comes to art. I choose to be their voice and share their work to the rest of the world. I am not an artist when it comes to painting or drawing art like they do but I have the skill to write and share about the hard work, dedication and effort they pour into their work. They too deserve recognition.