Curating "Fikiria" - UK premiere exhibition of paintings from Kibera

 

Hannah Wall discusses Wall Works’ inaugural exhibition, reveals how she discovered the exhibited artists and why she is raising money for the Uweza Foundation.

Hannah Wall, Founder of Wall Works and curator of “Fikiria - Art from Kibera, Kenya” © Chui King Li

Hannah Wall, Founder of Wall Works and curator of “Fikiria - Art from Kibera, Kenya” © Chui King Li

How did you discover the work of the artists you are exhibiting?

I have a sister who lives in Kenya and, on a visit to see her in 2016, she suggested visiting the Uweza Art Gallery in Kibera, one of the poorest parts of Nairobi. I was surprised to find such a variety of vibrant and beautiful paintings produced in pretty challenging surroundings; the colours, detail and expressive nature of the art was clearly the work of some talented young people and as I talked with some of the artists present, my admiration only grew.

Kibera slum in Nairobi, where the Uweza Art Gallery is situated © Brian Ochieng

Kibera slum in Nairobi, where the Uweza Art Gallery is situated © Brian Ochieng

Why did you decide to curate an exhibition?

Over the past two years, I have been thinking about how I might best support the Uweza Gallery artists, beyond purchasing art myself (which I have done and will no doubt continue to do) and I concluded that introducing their work to a wider international audience, would be the most beneficial. I was also keen to try my hand at something new during maternity leave and it has been a wonderful learning curve! It’s exciting to think that this is the first time that art from the Uweza Art Gallery will have been seen in the UK.

What can visitors expect at the exhibition?

25 beautiful paintings produced by talented young artists who range in age from 13 to 26. The paintings feature a broad variety of subjects; the Kenyan landscape, animals of the savannah, local people. The artists paint with a tremendous sense of imagination especially when it comes to their use of colour; there’s a real joy in their work and some keenly observed details too.

We hope people will find time to pop in and have a look around the exhibition after their Christmas shopping or in their lunch break. The paintings would make stunning presents of course and we will also be selling greetings cards which are a lovely little stocking filler. All the proceeds are going to the Uweza Foundation, which is a really worthwhile cause to support during the festive season.

“Looking Out” by Wesley Osoro

“Looking Out” by Wesley Osoro

Will the exhibition be of interest to children?

Yes! Many of the paintings are bold and bright and will be loved by children. In addition, the slightly older ones might be interested to read about the artists involved, the youngest of whom was just 13 when he painted one of the pictures being exhibited. They’re a really inspiring group of young people, especially when one considers the type of conditions they are living and painting in.

I am also really excited to be working with Jennifer Beetson of The Colour Club to offer art activities for pre and primary school children on 19 December alongside the exhibition. More information will be available soon so people can sign up but, if you know Jen, you know it’s going to be a lot of fun!

The exhibition is raising funds for the Uweza Foundation. Tell us a little about what the charity does.

The Uweza Foundation was founded in 2008 by Jen Sapitro and Hollywood actress, Rooney Mara, is President of the Board of Directors. Uweza works in Kibera (Africa’s largest urban slum), to provide hundreds of Kenyan children and youth with opportunities to pursue a path to a better future by offering a number of different educational and empowerment programmes.

More than half of Kibera’s estimated 800,000 population are under 18 and face major challenges including lack of access to education, early marriage, unemployment, prostitution, crime, substance abuse, poor housing and sanitation.

The Uweza Foundation recognises that Kibera residents are creative, resilient and resourceful and that sustainable change requires a future generation that is more educated, motivated and empowered. Their work is guided by these core principles and, to my mind, is absolutely outstanding. I have immense admiration for Jen and her team who are helping to change the lives of a whole generation of Kenyan youth.

An art class at the Uweza Art Gallery © Maxwell Anduvati

An art class at the Uweza Art Gallery © Maxwell Anduvati

What is the Uweza Art Gallery?

The Uweza Art Gallery is a repurposed shipping container in which free art classes are offered to children from five years upwards. The Gallery also provides more advanced students with a space to paint and sell their own original paintings and the proceeds of sale of the artwork are used to fund the artists’ education and living costs.  

All participating artists that are high school age are currently enrolled in high schools throughout Kenya, fully supported by the sales of their art, which to my mind is a phenomenal achievement. Through the provision of resources and practical support, young people are avoiding the inevitability of slum life and are able to take responsibility for their futures by utilising their artistic skills.

“Fikira - Art from Kibera, Kenya” is at the Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham on 18 & 19 December. For an invitation to the Private View on 18 December, please contact Hannah: contact@wall-works.com

 
Hannah Taylor