Conservation murals: Artist brings 'Mother Earth’ to life on canvas

Camille Wekesa 1

Camille Wekesa's mural at Lewa Conservancy's Education Conservation Centre. PHOTO | POOL

Camille Wekesa is a landscape artist and muralist who has created magical wall-to-wall landscape murals previously found primarily in private homes. She has painted murals in homes everywhere from Nairobi, Nanyuki, and Laikipia to London, and Sri Lanka. For one client, she created six murals in her home.

“I love painting [wall] murals since they give me so much more freedom than working on canvas, which I find constraining,” Camille told BDLife in a recent phone interview.

Currently, Camille has broadened her perspective on art, the environment, and the role creativity and education can play in fostering appreciation for the conservation of nature.

“Ever since I moved from Nairobi to Nanyuki, I’ve found more [mental] space to quietly contemplate what I’m doing next,” she adds.

One of the things she did was to share her ‘journey’ from six years of artistic studies in Florence and Rome up to the present day while speaking last weekend on ‘The Art of Conservation’ to friends of the Kenya Museum Society and her fans in Nairobi. They include those familiar with all she has created and publicly shared in shows, as she did a few years back at Red Hill Gallery. There she showed paintings of Lake Turkana, including panoramic visions of that rugged mountainous terrain, which she painted on site, not merely from photographs.

She has also had exhibitions of her paintings in gold leaf from Tsavo National Park and from Kitale, where she spent many of her formative years before she left for Florence, a city that has often been called the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’ (just as Kenya is called the Cradle of Civilisation’).

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Camille Wekesa. PHOTO | POOL

Kitale is where she painted in minute and glorious detail the local trees in another successful series that she shared way back when RaMoMa Gallery still existed on Second Avenue, Parklands.

But ever since she moved upcountry to Nanyuki, she has been thinking a lot about the role of art and environmental conservation in educating up-and-coming generations of conservationists and artists who are concerned to see “Mother Earth” retain her integrity, not be destroyed by careless politicians or corporates who also need to be aroused to the urgent need for developing green energy.

Camille started her first education programme working with the Lewa Conservancy to train neighbourhood children in art and its role in the environment. Then, because she wanted to expand her programme to include a professional Kenyan artists’ residency project, she shifted from Lewa in Laikipia to her home in Nanyuki. That was when she began inviting local artists to come and be part of her project. It was where they could spend a month working on their own art and teaching local children, just as she had been doing at Lewa.

This has evolved into Camille’s new Orkedi Art, Nature, and Education Foundation, which she premises on the task of creating a Kenyan cultural legacy of art that is conscious of the role of art in environmental conservation.

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Earth's Jewels, by Camille Wekesa. PHOTO | POOL

Thus far, it’s involved professional Kenyan artists, like Boniface Maina, who came for a month and worked closely with local children. Meanwhile, Camille intends to continue her own mural work, painting eight giant murals everywhere, from the Great Rift Valley, Maasai Mara, and Turkana to Samburu, Mijikenda’s sacred forests, Mount Kenya, Tsavo, and the Coast.

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