Art

Art classes at Lewa Conservancy

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Painter-Muralist Camille Wekesa has a children’s art education programme at Lewa Conservancy. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Camille is best known for being a muralist.
  • Her museum-quality murals are on display in six rooms, inclusive of walls, ceilings and floors at the Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy.
  • Art education is something that Camille believes strongly in and hopes that programmes like hers will stimulate greater interest in the government to revive an ‘examinable’ arts programme in the national curriculum soon.

Since moving up to Nanyuki seven years ago, Camille Wekesa rarely comes to Nairobi. But one of Kenya’s leading landscape artist had news she needed to share that has been simmering up at the Lewa Conservancy for many months.

Camille is best known for being a muralist. Her museum-quality murals are on display in six rooms, inclusive of walls, ceilings and floors at the Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy.

Her more recent murals are up at the Lewa Conservancy where she has been running a series of weekend art workshops with teens from the territory and a consistent flow of leading Kenyan artists teaching the youth everything from the basics of painting and woodcut printing to photography and ceramics created out of clay.

“The children come from two of the 20 schools that Lewa has built as gestures of goodwill towards the community,” says Camille.

“The conservancies have realised that the best way to work with local communities is by assisting them in solving their problems,” says Camille, who adds the schools Lewa constructed were in remote areas of the valley where no secondary schools existed before.

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PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

“The Lewa Art Education programme has 30 teens from Lokusero Secondary and 35 from Ntugi Secondary,” she adds. Admitting that she isn't one of the art teachers herself, Camille prefers to coordinate the programme since she has several projects of her own underway.

“Since the art education programme began, we have invited two professional Kenyan artists to come at a time,” she explains.

“I send a taxi to their homes so they arrive by midday on a Friday. Then they work with the youth a half-day, then a full day Saturday, and finally, another half-day on Sunday, before the taxi takes them home by early evening,” she adds.

Thus far, Camille has invited a rich variety of local artists who she stresses get a stipend for their artistic labour. “We don't believe that artists are always meant to be donating their skills,” she says. Nor does she go along with the notion that artists are always meant to be poor.

Art education is something that Camille believes strongly in and hopes that programmes like hers will stimulate greater interest in the government to revive an ‘examinable’ arts programme in the national curriculum soon.

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PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

“I’m told that arts education has been partially restored to the school syllabus, but it is not examinable,” she says, recalling how fortunate she was to attend Kenyan schools that had arts programmes.

They prepared her well to go to Italian art colleges, first in Florence, then in Rome and Milan. “It was six years in total,” she says.

Among the artists who have given hands-on art classes at Lewa is a long list of local luminaries: Patrick Mukabi, Peterson Kamwathi, Kevin Oduor, Beatrice Wanjiku, MaryAnn Muthoni, Justus Kyalo, Tonney Mugo, Beatrice Wanjiku, King Dodge, Allan Githuka, Fitsum Behre and his wife Nicole, John Silver, Syowia Kyambi and her colleague Kibe, among others.

Meanwhile, Camille has a range of other projects she is pursuing at her home outside Nanyuki. One is a new Primate Protection Programme that she and her neighbours just started.

“We have been re-planting trees so extensively that the wildlife has returned to the area. Thus, we wanted to find ways to work with people like the National Museums of Kenya to protect our revitalised habitat,” she says.

The other project that Camille is involved with is painting a series of eight iconic landscapes in Kenya that are World Heritage sites. She plans to house each set of eight murals in a separate cottage as a form of documentation and possibly viewer attraction.

The eight sites that she will be painting are the Aberdares, Mount Kenya, Maasai Mara, Samburu, Tsavo, Turkana, the Great Rift Valley, and the Taita Kaya Mounds.

None of this series will be for sale, she says.

“I will paint similar views in oils on canvas which can be exhibited and sold. But I am concerned with documenting the beauty of this country as we see it today, so the murals will remain intact.”