Lessons from mobile art school

Friday May 14 2010

By JOHN MAKENI

Every Saturday afternoon, and a group of students at Rev Githirwa Secondary School, Naivasha get their hands dirty while their colleagues are resting or at games.

With paints and brushes, they work to produce beautiful artwork that is hard to get from schools nowadays, especially after art and craft were removed from the curriculum.

The students of Rev Githirwa have joined others in Naivasha and Laikipia districts to exploit their artistic talents with help from mobile art teachers.

On Saturdays and Sundays, the teachers from the Mobile Art Schools of Kenya (Mask) project visit the budding artists to help them hone their skills.

Mask is a charity founded by Alla Tkachuk in Laikipia in 2003. Alla is now based in the UK.

One of the teachers, John Githiri, said he got involved in the project while he was a student at the University of Nairobi. He had visited a motel where he saw a painting that captured his attention.

“I asked the staff who had painted the piece and whether they could give me her contacts so that I could challenge her,” said Mr Githiri. This marked a partnership with Alla who later recruited other volunteers who teach the young artists.

Chip in

Mask often contributes the drawing materials but the school heads also chip in. Today, there are 15 art clubs in primary and secondary schools in Laikipia and Naivasha districts.

Lifestyle visited Lake Naivasha and Rev Githirwa secondary schools, where artists have benefited from the Mask project.

Mr Githiri had a lesson with the Art club Students. Although he teaches geography and religious studies at Lake Naivasha Secondary School, he volunteers to teach the artists at the two schools.

“Think of shapes, name a shape you know, if you so wish, get a background and go ahead and paint,” he tells his students. He uses drumbeat to “motivate the young artists to think of shapes to paint”.

One of the artists, Jane Eyen, a Form One student, seemed to draw and paint with ease. “I know with art I can earn a living when I complete school,” said the girl, who loves painting animals.

Simon Kamau, the chairman of the Art Club at the school, said he feels happy when I paints.

“I think it is good that it is no longer examinable. Since there is no pressure of tests, it becomes enjoyable,” he said.

Beatrice Nthenya, a Form Two student, said: “It is enjoyable and simple. I like the square because it is easy to paint and normally fits on a paper.”

At Lake Naivasha School, Lule Eliakim, said he likes painting but does not get a chance to practise “because we no longer study arts at school”.

“I would do it at home, but when I heard that the Arts Club was being formed, I was excited,” said Lule.

Lule has always wanted to become an artist. In August, he will travel to Nairobi to participate in an art exhibition at the RaMoMa Gallery. He is fascinated by this prospect and hopes this will open more doors for him.

Though he still finds time to play football with his schoolmates, James Karanja says he derives a lot more satisfaction by drawing.

Corruption is one his favourite themes. Another student, Eliud Maina, is a whiz at collage and commits four hours every weekend to create these works.

He has made collages of renowned people such as US President Barack Obama and Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The students have found joy in the fact that exhibitions usually associated with established artists nowadays offer them a platform to showcase their works.

From April 11 to April 15, Mask exhibited children’s artwork at Siragusa Gallery in Chicago, US.

The exhibition was organised by Mask’s Artists4Aid and Georgiana Phua, an artist who had spent four weeks in Laikipia and Naivasha teaching arts to the youth. Two students earned enough to pay their school fees.