In less than two weeks time, I am putting on a charity art exhibition. I am starting to feel a little nervous but have recently been reminded about why I am doing it.
The exhibition idea was conceived through the postpartum haze and numbness I felt in 2017. I knew I did not want to go back to my job as a lawyer full-time. I felt completely changed in this respect. I started to wonder, how could I be at home to raise our daughter and witness all her little developments.
It became clear that any business idea would need to be online and built up slowly over time. I had always loved visual art and the arts generally. I studied English and Theatre at University and spent 5 years working as an agent for classical musicians so I have always been involved in the arts in some capacity.
Then on a wintry “nap walk”, I came up with the idea of an online art gallery where people could purchase affordable art for their homes and workspaces. I was keen to introduce young artists to new collectors and importantly for there to be some sort of positive contribution made to society through the venture.
One of my sisters lives in Nairobi and she had introduced me to the Uweza Art Gallery in 2016. Situated in Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, my husband and I took a bumpy taxi ride to visit the shipping container in which the Gallery is housed. The whole experience took our breath away and we felt utterly inspired by what we had seen and the young artists we spoke with. We wondered, how could such talent come from such poverty?
Kibera is everything you might imagine it to be – dirty, dusty (until the rains come and sewage mixes with the torrents of rainwater running round and through people’s homes), smelly, noisy, a ramshackle mix of temporary rooftops and tangled electrical wires. Imagine 2.5 million people, 60% of the Nairobi population, living on just 6% of the capital’s land and you get a sense of the issues residents face. It’s chaotic and most people live in very difficult and, in some cases, dangerous circumstances, but there is also a tremendous wave of energy in the slum and a lot of pride.
Since our 2016 visit, I have mused on how I might best support the young artists of the Gallery, beyond purchasing art myself and during maternity leave I concluded that my online gallery should be launched with an exhibition of the Uweza Art Gallery artists’ works.
And so here we are… 1 venue, 2 days, 10 plus artists, more than 25 paintings, 3 main sponsors, 2 children’s art sessions and a whole host of support from the local community, from within the MumBoss group and from across Kenya.
Some people have asked me, why The Uweza Foundation? Why, when there are so many problems in the UK, do I look to a far flung corner of Africa to focus my attention. I hear you. Every day it seems my heart strings are pulled by one very worthy organisation or another. Christmas is a good time to reflect on what we truly value in our lives and sometimes there is a cause that really speaks to those values.
What I find so compelling about the Uweza story is that the young artists (aged between 13 and 26) are able to fundamentally improve not just their own quality of life but, in some cases, those of their family too. They can increase their income to a level whereby they do not have to worry about food, shelter and, most importantly (to my mind), education.
All of the current Uweza Art Gallery artists have paid for their high school tuition to date through the sale of their artwork and three of the exhibited artists are currently funding their University education. In addition, some are able to assist their families; take Douglas Maina, the 18 year old undergraduate at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, who is not only a phenomenally talented artist but is also able to give some of his painting income to his parents to support his younger siblings. Frank Okoth, is another beautiful painter, as well as the leader of the art programme the Uweza Foundation runs for primary school children. When I asked him what he does with the income he earns from his artwork, he said, “I give my parents a small percentage for their shopping and I help my small sister to pay her school fees.”
These are just two examples of many where a young person’s creative talent, properly supported can lead to the development of a skill which can fundamentally change the quality of their lives; it truly makes my little heart sing! This is why I am organising an exhibition of the Uweza Artists’ work and why I am supporting the Uweza Foundation in its quest to empower and, in doing so, change the lives of a whole generation of Kenyan youth.
A Guest Blog from MumBoss, Hannah Wall
Hannah is mama to 15 month old Meredith and founded online art gallery, Wall Works, during maternity leave.
Her inaugural exhibition, “Fikiria – Art from Kibera, Kenya” takes place at the Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham on 18 December (Private View 6.30pm) and 19 December (10am to 4pm). She is also collaborating with Jen Beetson of The Colour Club to host two animal-themed art sessions for children on 19 December at 10am and 1pm.