In the last issue of Awaaz, we introduced the “Who I Am, Who We Are" project and our work on looking for a common Kenyan identity. The project run by Xavier Verhoest and Wambui Kamiru, both artists affiliated with the Kuona Trust, seeks to create spaces for expression on responsible citizenship through art. One of the ways we explore identity is through the creation of bodymaps. These are life-size paintings created by the participants and they are reflections of their thoughts of themselves as individuals in society and as members of a society.
The artist is a creative who is of African/ Arab and Indian heritage. He was born and grew up in Western Kenya and experienced racism from both sides of the racial divide. He lives everyday with his ability to engage his multicultural heritage. Here is his story.
“When we come to the painting, it was just me and how I got here and how I got the courage to do this.”
My hopes are based on an infamous government slogan used as an excuse for poor service delivery to the public. Vision 2030 we are led to believe, shall be the magical date that Kenya shall somehow mysteriously become a global super power and champion of human rights in addition to having enough resources for all its citizens.
My Body Map – 2030 Vision
“These names are important to me because they have been repeated to me in my social life as a Kenyan, repeated in news, story books, on my ID, expectations and obligations as a Kenyan.”
When we come to the painting, it was just me and how I got here and how I got the courage to do this. The title of my artwork “2030 vision” makes me feel to have like a bionic vision. Everything below that future date is nothing but history. These names are important to me because they have been repeated to me in my social life as a Kenyan, repeated in news, story books, on my ID, expectations and obligations as a Kenyan. I have to be associated with these names and some of them make me proud. Some teach me lessons. I would not say that am not proud of what Moi did. The people who were killed in the election violence taught us; about our morality and humanity and how far we go with destroying ourselves. All this red is the blood of very important people everyday people like teachers, farmers, shopkeepers. They all shed blood and we all learnt that it was not right that blood was to be shed for whatever reason, especially a political one. The piece starts with Kenyatta at the bottom because he owns the land. The family owns a lot of land.
I like the Former President, Kibaki for many things. Although I hold him resposible for dividing the country along tribal lines, he did improve the economy of the growing middle class. I grew up in the Moi era and in a region that was an opposition stronghold. Because of this there was no development because we were not on the right side of the government. When Kibaki came I believe that the economic situation of the country improved. I believe he is part of the many reasons I can make money and he created the sense of entrepreneurship through his economic ability. It somehow filtered through to the regular Kenyan and for the first time, when I came to Nairobi as an adult there were lights in town and you could walk in the streets even after 7 o’clock. When I was a teenager walking around in town even after 9pm was adventurous and it was like a thrill it gave a wonderful blood rush to be on Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya street at 9 pm and see 10 policemen coming on one end and 10 thugs robbing pedestrians on the other. This changed after Moi – Kibaki made a difference.
I also put Lupita Nyong’o and I’m going to associate this with that green section of my painting. I have put about six people, names of people I think are recognized for exceptional abilities, great things but some do not get the media coverage they deserve. For me these people are like heroes in our daily lives. I wrote Raila’s name because he battled in multiparty politics issues right to a point where he won an election. However, after what took place when he won the election, these are also lessons to be learnt. I would not say that this gentleman is perfect and there are many questions that can be attributed to his character but at this point I’m looking at the positive things he did, but let it not be seen that I do not know his negatives.
Wangari Maathai was not perfect either but her struggles are the struggles of an African woman, it is an achievement for her to have been called Professor Wangari Maathai. Secondly, simple things like planting trees and standing for what she thought was right in national issues. She was beaten and ridiculed. She is one of the few people who stood up to the monster.
“We [Kenyans] have been 3000m steeple chase champions for 40years – that is 4 decades. Nobody has dominated a particular sport for such a long time like we have.”
We as Kenyans have the longest run and number one position at any sport and Kipchoge Keino started that run in history in 1966. We have been 3000m steeple chase champions for 40years – that is 4 decades. Nobody has dominated a particular sport for such a long time like we have.
Morris Odumbe is a less known person. He played cricket and dominated the West Indies in the 1995 and 1997 Cricket World Cup. He is not that well known because he played cricket, which is popular locally. I like the the fact that he comes from my village and he was an eccentric type of a player; the type of person you would meet in my village.
Yash Pal Ghai, I put him here because he is an Asian and a very meek man, typical Asian man, not aggressive in his approach and a gentleman. He managed to withstand the hold of many politicians, for many days with intelligent conversations until he was able to give birth to a new constitution. Growing up, I was told that tears are associated with weakness. It is in my adulthood I learnt tears of strength are those that have no explanation because it is only when you climb to the top of the mountain then look down, that tears flow because of the achievement.
Obama for all the right and wrong reasons, definitely the most famous person on this canvas, because he is now the king of the world in the political sense, the man with the finger on about 4000 nuclear warheads. He is the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful army. His father comes from my village. This shows the world has come to a full circle in terms of integration and the ability to see how far a human being can reach.
Another reason why I have used names to decorate this simplistic art piece is that names today can be searched on Google and Wikipedia. So anybody who is going to see this and feels like it is a silly piece of art, will find out what I am talking about by putting any of the names in his cell phone. By searching the names he will be able to find out something that I know is exceptional.
The colour scheme is centered on the Kenyan, Indian, Jamaican & Ethiopian flags with a little bit of green, the red – these colours represent the same reasons that they are on those flags.
The yellow I used is very important and even for its portion in the image, it is a little bit to the center and close to my heart and goes on to my hands, the two organs that do the day to day work. The yellow is represents brightness and gold. It is all about wealth and future capitalism. I think that is what the yellow signifies, even though it might not run the whole world.
Purple is the colour of royalty and it represents the positive imperial importance and that is why it is very close to the central position.
Please click here to visit the project online.