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MASK awards to promote creativity in rural schools

First prize winner Louis Nderi with
First prize winner Louis Nderi with Industrialist Manu Chandaria & Alla Tkachuk. Photo/Margaretta Wa Gacheru 

Drawing a direct line between art, innovation and entrepreneurship, Dr Manu Chandaria was the perfect guest speaker to launch the 2014 Mask Awards ceremony.

Only the second set of awards given since Alla Tkachuk founded her Mobile Arts School in Kenya (MASK) seven years ago. Dr Chandaria spoke with a passion and sense of urgency that was refreshing but disturbing at the same time at the ceremony held last week at the University of Nairobi’s School of Art and Design.

Referring to the “six million” youth who have left school with no clear career path, he said Kenya’s education system needed to change fast to offer training in creativity, to teach youth how to think innovatively in order to generate new ideas and enterprises of their own.

In her opening remarks, Ms Tkachuk said creativity was defined as “the ability to generate new ideas”. She has been teaching that skill to rural youth through the arts since 2007.

Calling her program a mobile arts school since her ‘school’ has no fixed abode. Ms Tkachuk started her painting project out of appreciation for the Kenyans who were so hospitable to her. Teaching art was the one thing she felt she could to give.

The response to her teaching was overwhelming, especially as the Kenyan school curriculum has no room for the arts. Teachers advised her how best to stir public awareness on the value of visual arts and creativity with a national art competition that offered cash prizes.

The success of her project was manifest last week when she and Dr Chandaria handed out awards to young people and rural schools, which had impressed the judges, with their paintings and videos.

The first prize of Sh50,000 went to 23-year-old Louis Nderi for his photograph inspired by Lupita Nyongo’s statement at the Oscars, “Your dreams are valid”. “I took her words to mean there are no boundaries, no limits to what we can do if we hold to our dreams,” said Nderi.

Nine-year-old orphan, Clement Murithi, who created a mixed media ‘painting’ of a fish made out of metal bottle tops took home the second prize of Sh30,000.

Onesmus Okamar, a 19-year-old, from Amagoro, Busia, took home the third prize of Sh25,000. A form two drop out due to lack of school fees Okmar said he’d been inspired by Michelangelo and Leonardo di Vinci to want to create art that would one day be in history books.

Two schools won Sh50,000, each, for their students producing innovative works of art. Darubini Talent Academy, which was started in 2011 in Kiserian by former GoDown artist Esther Makuhi, and Nyumbani Lawson Secondary.

Each winner had a touching story including 16-year-old Joel Gatua who dropped out of school due to lack of fees.

An opportunity to start painting with Tkuchur has seen him speak about creativity and entrepreneurship at UNESCO, in Paris.

With two successful businesses he is living proof of the value of teaching the youth about art and creativity. He also teaches art privately in Laikipia West and often talks to parents advocating teaching of art and creativity in schools.

The MASK awards this year introduced a new category of creative expression. The award called on people to send in videos with rappers Cr3w Teflon, dubbed The Children’s Anthem, being awarded Sh50,000. The rap group, made up of Ben Vic and Timmy Tim tells the of a little girl who’d lost both parents and had no one to look after her.

Reiterating Chandaria’s message of the value of creativity, MASK’s other guest speaker, Kenyan art collector Anthony Athaide said teaching creativity to youth not only stimulates innovation; “it also leads to greater productivity” which will benefit the Kenyan economy in the long and short run.

Ms Tkuchuk is based in London but regularly travels to Kenya. She recently launched two new courses now being taught by John Githiri, in Naivasha.

Meanwhile, at One off Gallery, Shabu Mwangi’s paintings went on exhibition from last Sunday through mid-June and at Shifteye Gallery through the weekend, Wini Awoundo debuts on the Kenyan art scene in her first solo exhibition, which is not to be missed.