Mobile art school now fills creative vacuum

The removal of art from the national education curriculum left a void for nurturing creativity in the young Kenyan youth.

Art is the one arena of education where the Kibaki government fell down.

It was when they chose to removed Art from the national curriculum and left a vacuum and void for creative Kenyan youth who might have excelled in the arts if they had been left in the curriculum.

Fortunately that vacuum was filled by freelance artists like Samuel Kimemia and John Ngugi, graduates of the now-defunct Creative Arts Centre who volunteer their services at schools and children’s centres like the award-winning Children of God orphanage which just won the Best Schools prize in the MASK Children’s Art Competition along with Rubiri Primary School, Naivasha.

Reading about the MASK 013 Art Prize in the press, the two art teachers inspired 35 of the 117 students at the children’s centre to create 70 paintings for consideration by the MASK judges.

MASK or the Mobile Art Schools of Kenya is the other entity that has filled the vacuum when Art was dropped from the national schools syllabus in 2003.

The mobile school was started by the European artist, Alla Tkachuk, who arrived in Kenya on holiday seven years ago and felt compelled to stay on and start a moveable art school that catered to children.

Initially, she met young Kenyans and chose to share her artistic skills with them.

But then when she discovered there was no Art in the schools’ curriculum, she chose to set up MASK and offer her services to a number of rural schools.

“It was actually one of the headmasters in a rural school who suggested I start what would become MASK,” said Alla who, despite being based in London, has been able to spend enough time in Kenya to establish MASK and raise sufficient funds among friends overseas to keep it running with Kenyan staff while she is away.

“It was the (Kenyan) teachers who suggested I establish the art competition and include cash prizes,” she added. “They said that would be the best way to get schools, other teachers and young students interested in doing art.”

And the teachers were correct. From January 2013 up until last month, MASK collected around 1000 paintings by Kenyan youth, some as young as eight, others as old 20 plus.

As the British High Commission, Dr Christian Turner observed while opening the exhibition last Tuesday afternoon at the Nairobi National Museum, it couldn’t have been easy to select winners from the myriad paintings that were posted all over the museum walls.

There were so many that expressed immense creativity and originality on the part of the Kenyan youth.

But three young people were chosen, each of whom will receive Sh55,000 from a number of international Friends of MASK, including Mr. Alan Rivers, a British businessman, who contributed toward the first prize winner James Kungu’s flying to London where he will have the opportunity to visit all the museums and art galleries he likes.

The other two winning artists are Jaini Hitesh Shah, 18, a student at the Oshwal Academy whose ‘Mara River Crossing’ was by far the most accomplished painting in the children’s show and Margarita Ony’ango whose ‘Cultural Diversity, Peace & Unity’ made a powerful statement about the unity in diversity that is the Kenyan identity as she sees it.

Commending Alla for her passionate commitment to creativity and art and their potential for inspiring Kenyan youth to ‘think outside the box’, Alan Rivers said it was her enthusiasm for Kenyan children’s creative capacity that convinced him to support MASK.

The MASK children’s art exhibition at the Museum will remain at the Museum until mid-July after which it will go to London to be shown at the Saatchi Gallery from mid-September.

Meanwhile, the six photographers’ exhibition, Mwangalio Tofauti II, in the gallery just next door to the MASK showcase of children’s art at the National Museum is a sad disaster!

All six are meant to be visible on videos that are running round the clock, each on its own individual ‘golden screen’. Yet only two out of the six are visible as the other four systems are ‘out of order’ meaning the photographers’ images are invisible.