September 23rd 2017

Media / Arts & Culture

In expelling student artist, Nakuru school embodied our common ignorance of art

I strongly believe that to nurture awareness about art, Kenyans need to have free access to art especially in the National Museum and understand what art is really about.

By Charity Wainainacwainaina@kenyafreepress.comSunday, 19 Feb 2017 15:29 EAT

One of Kenya's best known artists, Boniface Mwangi, discusses the impact of his activism with colleagues.

Last week, I came across a story about a Form Four student from Nakuru County who was expelled from school after he made drawings that his headteacher claimed to be 'demonic'. The story got me thinking about the Kenyan artist, how relevant they are and how people perceive them.

The more I reflect upon the boy’s story, the more I feel for him. It was so unfair for him to be expelled. Just because he drew a scorpion or superheroes doesn’t mean he is in any cult or demonic culture. The worst part is the headteacher is so convinced that the boy is recruiting other students into devil worship. Teachers who are supposed to nurture students’ talents are the very ones who don’t understand their needs.

If they boy had been expelled based on other evidence of recruiting colleagues into devil worship, that would be understandable, but just drawing a picture surely can't constitute such recruitment. The expulsion only goes to show how judgmental Kenyans are, often based on scanty or flimsy information. Anyone who cares to understand the boy’s situation would certainly appreciate that he’s bubbling with talent in the arts.

I think that while Kenyans love art, they do not have enough exposure to it and therefore are susceptible to being misled about its meaning or power. The government takes blame for the lack of awareness about art in Kenya. Unlike in foreign countries, Kenyans are charged dearly to come into contact with their art.

Unlike in cities like Paris and London, where art is considered elite and therefore has an allure for youths and middle classes, in Kenya places like the National Museum are far removed from the people’s reality. Why can’t the government just allow people to go and see art without any fee? The only time Kenyans are allowed to see their artistic works is during national holidays at Uhuru Park, and still people are expected to buy the artefacts. The question is how can people buy what they don’t even understand?

Art is all about the mood, inspiration and how someone feels, it’s a difficult job yet so interesting. Because artists are driven by passion, its not hard to find an artist drawing or painting using expensive materials even when they are not sure if the art will bring good returns. Kenyan artists, especially those who depend on art as their only source of income, work really hard for people to appreciate them, which is why I feel so angry when I see people not appreciating art.

I strongly believe that to nurture awareness about art, Kenyans need to have free access to art especially in the National Museum and understand what art is really about. The government can help so much if they allow people to the museum at their own free time with no fee charged because people will be familiar with art which will be an advantage to the artists and the government too.

Otherwise, we will continue to see teachers and other members of society punishing artists for their own ignorance.

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