Multi-million Shilling ‘Elephant’ Finds a Home

Gloria Muthoka (in a red bandana) was one of many artists who painted a mural. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG
Gloria Muthoka (in a red bandana) was one of many artists who painted a mural. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

Dream Kona provided a ‘dream come true’ this past weekend when scores of elders, artists and youth joined hands and hearts to celebrate the arrival of Elkana Ong’esa’s multi-tonne granite stone sculpture, ‘Elephant Family’ to Uhuru Garden.

The sculpture had been delivered, courtesy of TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health), from the Nairobi National Museum where it had lain on the front lawn for the last four years.

Originally, the work had been scheduled to go to Washington DC as part of the Kenyan cultural showcase during the Smithsonian Institution’s biannual summer festival. But that was never to be.

Despite promises having been made to one of Kenya’s most esteemed and venerable artists and teachers, Elkana’s sculpture had been left behind literally on the runway as the plane took off.

The museum was kind enough to give it a temporary home. But now, the ‘Elephant Family’ stands proudly in the heart of Dream Kona, like the monumental national icon it was meant to be.

But that dream wasn’t the only one that came true last week. The whole idea of Dream Kona, according to TICAH’s founder-director Mary Ann Burris, is for Kenyan creatives (whatever their genre or age) to have a venue where they can work, play, perform and share ideas in an open, arts-affirming space.

The elders (many of whom were artists in their own right) had been together the whole week prior to Saturday. Many had been participants in the four-month exhibition, HekIma and Urembo at the Nairobi Museum which TICAH had organised.

‘HekIma’ had been all about elders from a wide range of Kenyan communities giving programmes where they shared their wisdom related to everything from traditional medicines to cultural practices and philosophies. ‘Urembo’ on the other hand, exhibited aspects of indigenous beauty, both contemporary and traditional.

So while the twin exhibitions closed the previous day, Saturday was when aspects of both shows came out and illustrated what indigenous Kenyan culture looks like.

Traditional healers

There were demonstrations (and teaching) on everything from beading by Maasai women and weaving by Pokomo men to pottery-making by Luo ladies and carving by Kisii stone carvers.

There were even elders on hand who specialise in preparing natural plant products to heal assorted maladies. These ‘medicine men’ have inspired the Trust to document their indigenous knowledge (including their ‘dawa’ recipes) so that their wisdom won’t be lost. (One of the ways elders’ wisdom is also shared is through TICAH’s annual calendar which contains one indigenous herbal recipe every month in a year.)

Also, there were painters who seemed to dominate the day since they had one gigantic wall on which to paint colourful images highlighting the theme of wildlife and human relations and responsibility to endangered species like Elkana’s elephants. Meanwhile, art classes went on for children from several Nairobi ‘informal settlements’.