Which way for rural artistic talent?

We speak to artists from the Lake Basin Arts group about being an artist working in a rural setting.

Visual art showcases are regular fixtures particularly on Nairobi’s monthly cultural and visual arts events calendar.

But in most other parts of the country, art exhibitions are virtually unheard off and almost non-existent owing to lack of spaces to showcase paintings, multi-media, sculptural and video works of art.

Numerous leisure establishments situated along the Kenyan coastal strip occasionally host solo-artist displays much less frequently.

These low-keyed events are likely to coincide with the tourists’ high season, organized as an added value for the visiting guests.

So does this prevailing scenario imply that active visual artists and sculptors can only be found in the Kenyan capital city - Nairobi?

Undisputedly, there are small scale, or fledging art groups, individual artists, painters and sculptors who derive modest income streams and creative satisfaction from their works of art.

The dearth of adequate spaces to exhibit, institutions for training, nurture and development of basic skills, arguably also stifles pursuit of artistic expression in most rural towns.

Professional studios and galleries are non-existent, with most artists opting to work from makeshift tables or tree shades at home.

Artistic materials, ranging from paints, canvases, oils, acrylics, brushes, easels – are costly and beyond reach for many beginners scattered across rural counties.

Working within an environment wherein the local community is largely ill informed on aesthetic value attached to paintings and sculptural arts, also stirs up bottlenecks for rural based artists.

In Kisumu city however, an innovative, homegrown initiative has been at fore front, changing trends and perceptions by providing support to artists operating in the lakeside region.

The Lake Basin Arts group, founded almost five years ago – has so far recruited more than 30 artists enlisted under its pool of active members.

“Most of us are predominantly self-taught artists, whilst the rest have at least acquired formal art training at the Catholic Church-funded Mwangaza Art School,” says Victor Peko, an artist affiliated to the group.

Just like Nairobi’s Buru Buru Institute of Fine Arts (BIFA), the Kisumu town based art school runs a three-year diploma programme.

“As artists working in a rural setting the odds we face are enormous, it takes a patience and determination to keep going, constantly depicting creative ideas and transform them into paintings or sculptural artworks,” he explains.

Being a Mwangaza School alumni – Peko goes out of his way to assist eager youths who may be interested in rudimentary skills and learning the ropes to express their artistic muses.

“Most of my colleagues are relatively busy and regularly create artworks. But selling the art is not easy out here. We have no choice but keep accumulating paintings without any spaces to showcase our work,” notes Peko.

Yet the biggest challenge is making a livelihood off their artistic creations. “We have talented artists, keen to learn and experiment. For now we have no choice but supplement sporadic artworks sales with sign-writing jobs to stay afloat,” he adds.

And as the Lake Basin Art group seeks to stamp its imprint on the rural circuit, its primary objective is hinged on expanding its network of new artists.


Which way for rural artistic talent?

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