‘There’s Umoja in Art,’ – Michael Daman

Since primary school, Michael Daman always knew he’d be an artist. But the journey wasn’t always easy for the Mombasa born creative. A series of both fortunate and some unfortunate events here and there, helping hands, 25,000Kes and a competition, changed the trajectory of his life; allowing him to put his vision of Kenya on canvas. He simply never gave up.

Daman’s most prized piece captures the innocence of children. There is a saying that the face is a reflection of the mind so that as long as mind is pure and clear, the face will reflect what is on the mind. This picture brings out the pure nature of children’s faces, showing their cuteness, openness, sincerity, and smiles despite their poor background. They display their emotions unabashedly. This deep charcoal eyes look into your soul, a true reflection of a similar upbringing Daman had. Whether the children are grimacing, or pouting, their innocence is not affected, making them just cheerful and lovely. Paid with mandazis or Kshs 50, Daman used his surroundings as a canvas. From the dirt people disregarded to scraps of paper, he was simply perfecting his skill set.

His world however changed in 2006. He participated in the Kiwi Art Competition, winning Kshs 25,000 and a trophy, a dream come true for him ideally which would have thrown any young man off (especially the cash prize). But Daman had a grander vision. He used the prize money to attend  art classes so as to increase his chance of  becoming a better artist. And it surely paid off, looking at the incredible pieces of art this young man has created. His Kenya on Canvas art piece only took him two weeks to complete. He had enough practice to create a masterpiece at this point.

It  only gets better. Most of us long for a legacy, some stake in the future that says, “I was here.” What better legacy than to be a part of shaping tomorrow’s leaders, right? Daman was adamant about the fact that”building a community helps artists grow.” There is no better way to embed knowledge than through teaching and sharing. In 2017, Daman met a young artist, Joseph Gichuhi.  It was an instant bond due to their similar upbringing, hardship and love of art. At some point in life, they had to move into a bedsitter but this did not stop them from working extra hard. Daman took it upon himself to mentor this young artist and to help him set up a painting studio.

You can never go wrong in terms of mentoring a younger artist, he believes…. “teaching them ways to avoid the mistakes you made, learning new techniques and simply feeling like someone understands you.” That’s exactly what Daman did with Joseph. He took him under his wings.

They overcame so many obstacles but remained focused on starting their own studio. They knew from the moment they met, that it would be easier to navigate the industry if they worked together and they were absolutely right. Early this year all their hard work, sacrifice and, well some rejections finally paid off. They opened their studio in a one bedroom apartment, somewhere they can create consistent art. Known in the art world as Guama Arts, Joseph Gichuhi is also today paving his own way through canvas.

Majority of his work can be described as hyper realism and is heavily based on graphite and charcoal work. At only 23 and sharpening his skills, the young man will be on your walls in the near future.  Joseph applied for the Safaricom art competition and plans to apply again having seen and learnt from Daman’s pieces of This is my Kenya. Watch out for him.

To Daman and Joseph, the quality of the products they use elevates the quality of the work produced. Importing majority of their electric erasers, canvases, paints and paint brushes, they want to produce the best with The best.

The two artists plan on continuing to perfect their craft, and are open to collaborate with seasoned and new artists so they can put the true meaning of Umoja to not only their studio but their art in the society. Putting Kenya on canvas has opened up a world of opportunities for artists like Daman. Humbled to receive a helping hand from Safaricom, he has paid it forward by building a community within a community on canvas. Mentoring young or inexperienced professionals is an investment in the future of our industry and in the success of the future workforce. It’s a way we can influence the current culture of our organization and ensure that our workplace and our industry reflect our own values.

This Is My Kenya, a project by Safaricom has made artists realize the power of collectively sharing beautiful Kenyan images and how it can change not only the perception of our country but also strengthen its economic presence and empower its citizens who in turn empower and mentor others.

Art influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. Through art, people from different cultures and different times communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories. Art is often a vehicle for social change. It can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. A song, film or novel can rouse emotions in those who encounter it, inspiring them to rally for change.

Over the last 18 years Safaricom has extended its vision of transforming lives beyond the provision of relevant products and services, to investment in the arts through various initiatives including the annual This Is My Kenya campaign. For more on this, log onto https://thisismykenya.co.ke/

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