Art in Tafaria Castle

Tafaria art
Founder Artist Waweru Gichuhi with his artwork and George Waititu at Tafaria inaugural exhibition (left). Maggie Otieno’s ‘‘Soul of Tafaria’’ sculpture at the entrance of Tafaria Castle (right). PHOTOS | MARGARETA WA GACHERU 

Tafaria Castle may be best understood as ‘‘a dream come true’’ for George Tafaria Waititu. Yet the dream is still a work in progress.

It’s been nearly a decade since Mr Waititu began breaking ground in the rural region once known as Deighton Downs but named by locals, including his mother, as Kangawa. Nonetheless, the castle itself is only one feature of Mr Waititu’s expansive vision.

The man who made his mark as a market research analyst has already proved he is also a poet, having self-published a poetry book entitled ‘‘Soul of Tafaria.’’

But one hadn’t counted on him also building an arts centre. But he has. Tafaria Centre for the Arts opened last Saturday with an inaugural exhibition that featured some of Kenya’s most interesting young artists. Some are from Brush tu Art Studio, others from Maasai Mbili and others from Kuona Artists Alliance.

That includes Kevin Oduor who is the brave heart who agreed to attend Tafaria’s first art residency with Cyrus Kabiru back in 2013. That was years before the centre was built, the artists’ workshop and studio space constructed; and living quarters erected. Kevin has a similar sort of imagination, ingenuity and tenacity as Mr Waititu, such that both he and Cyrus managed to create amazing works of art after one month.


By now, Mr Waititu’s vision had grown to recognise the need for a multi-purpose space that can serve not only visual artists but also designers, creative writers and even performing artists.

He also sees the need for artists to embrace the local community and expose it more broadly to the arts.

“We’ve already witnessed the interest we’ve generated among the youth,” said Mr Waititu who has every artist-in-residence at Tafaria create a project that involves locals, be they schoolchildren or adults.

Peter Walala, one of the two resident artists currently at the castle (Jimmy Githaka is the other), offered an illustration of the eye-opening impact that his art has already made locally.
He is currently working on a huge tree stump that the Waititus first saw as a local woman was taking it home in her donkey cart.

“She wouldn’t sell it since she said she needed it for firewood. So we went out and got her a small gas cooker. After that, she was happy to let us have the wood,” said Mr Waititu. When Peter got hold of the wood, he had help from a worker to carry it to the site.

“Every day he {the worker} now comes to see what I’ve done to the wood. He’s amazed to see what it’s turning into,” says Peter, the sculptor who’s wooden ‘work in progress’ was an integral part of the inaugural show.

One other fascinating feature of the new centre is the set of recycled glass windows created by Joan Otieno. The windows are beautiful but this artist who specialised in creating junk art found her project nearly daunting.

“I had to dig up the bottles as they had been buried [as a means of disposal]. Then I cut the glass, using thread and fire. After that, I used cement to hold the glass in place,” Joan says.

Her windows are a permanent part of the centre but the current exhibition will only be up for two months.

“I want to give many artists an opportunity to exhibit at the centre,” says Mr Waititu who also has permanent artworks scattered all around the grounds.

For instance, Maggie Otieno welded a lovely ‘‘Soul of Tafaria’’ sculpture that stands near the front entrance of the castle. Other works situated near the castle include Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia’s two satirical scrap-metal sculptures, Longinos Nagila’s series of four red-hooded metallic men and Mr Waititu’s own giant fiftini tea cup.

The other arena dedicated to the arts is the amphitheatre where Mr Waititu announced the first edition of the Tafaria Advocacy Visual Arts Award. It’s an annual award of Sh100,000 that will go to a piece that best combines art and social advocacy of an issue aligned with Tafaria’s concern for positive transformation.

“We’ll accept submissions next year between August and September. The first winner will be announced on October 20, Mashujaa Day,” said Mr Waitutu.