, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 17 – An annual art festival kicked off Sunday at Nairobi’s Koinange Street with a call for the creation of space to showcase different forms of visual and performing arts.
Njeri Mwangi, a co-organizer of the PAWA festival which was being held in the city for the third time told Capital FM News that availability of space remained a hurdle artists continued to face in the pursuit for growth saying there was a need for concerted efforts to expand the existing public art space in Nairobi.
According to Mwangi, availability of art space could mark a turning point in the nation’s tourism industry which is primarily anchored on wildlife, sandy beaches and mountain climbing.
“We need to grow and allow spaces for creativity. In Nairobi, there’s something ongoing at Uhuru Gardens with the support of the county government but much still needs to be done,” she said.
“We need to get to a place where an artist can come and draw so that we beautify the city but also make an opportunity for art tourism so that people can come from all parts of the world to just come and see and behold that art,” Mwangi added.
She said a thriving environment for artists could provide innumerable opportunities to young people translating into economic empowerment.
Through the PAWA festival, Mwangi said artists had a platform to interact and share experiences with the ultimate goal of championing economic freedom.
“Art goes for a lot of money – millions of dollars in some country. This year our theme creative action which is centered on what people are doing to change their circumstances for the better from a personal social-economic level to the entire nation,” she said.
In the future, the organizers of the festival are looking at lobbying other government and non-government actors to facilitate the creation of similar festivals in all the 47 counties.
By so doing, conveners of PAWA festival say existing artists will have an opportunity to showcase their talent while providing a breeding ground for upcoming artists.
“I want us to be in all the counties so that all the creativity can be showcased and let people engage so that we can grow the appreciation of this industry,” Mwangi said.
Art has in the past proven to be an effective tool for calming tension in traditional election hotspots such as the Kibra and Mathare slums in Nairobi.
Amid heightened anxiety that followed the announcement of the August 8 presidential results and the subsequent cancellation of the same by the Supreme Court on September 1, peace messages by artists such as Solomon Muyundo popularly known as Solo7 were visible in most slum areas.
Although the impact of writings penned by Solo7 on most tarmac roads in Kibera is yet to be ascertained, most slam dwellers acknowledged at the time that their interaction with such art made them think twice about violence.
“The violence I witnessed in 2007/08 post-election violence made me think deeper and I decided to use my paints to write peace messages in the neighborhood,” Solo7 recounted during an interview in October.
“I was among those who were demonstrating in 2007/08 but I realized that not everyone was demonstrating because of the presidential results. Most of them were thieves,” the artist explained.
Among key messages Solo7 inked on the roads at the time included a painting on numerous roads reading “Kenya is bigger than politicians.”
Another read: “Keep peace alive.”
“If you walk around Kibra Constituency right now you will notice my paints almost everywhere and I’m happy that the stalls that were painted were never looted or burnt,” the Reject Newspaper, a monthly publication by African Woman and Child Feature Service’s Media Diversity Center quoted Solo7 in its October issue.
Contemporary art in Kenya, however, remains largely subdued even with the opening of a newly refurbished Kenya National Theater in September 2015.
The 370-seater facility which is located along Harry Thuku Road in Nairobi was reconfigured at the cost of Sh100 million.