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Artists in Kenya Spreading Health Messages Through Their Works

Kenyan Artists Use their Craft to Spread Messages About COVID-19
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Kenyan Artists Use their Craft to Spread Messages About COVID-19

With a mobile phone in one hand and a charcoal brush in the other, master artist Patrick Mukabi performs a delicate balancing act as he goes about teaching an online art class.

It is a unique experience for the artist, who turned to virtual teaching at the onset of the COVID pandemic. But while the platform has advantages, Mukabi says it also has its drawbacks.

“I like being with people. I get ideas from people," Mukabi said. "Not meeting my students, not being able to get visitors to buy my work, also walk-in people who just walk into the studio, so things just stopped suddenly.”

Mukabi is one of hundreds of artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic. His income has dropped by half, to about $1,000 per month, as a result of not being able to sell his art.

The Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, a nonprofit organization based in Kenya, has launched an initiative to provide a platform for artists such as Mukabi to sell their works and promote COVID-19 health messages.

The project has brought together 46 artists who created a mobile art installation in line with the theme.

Eric Manya, a curator at TICAH, told VOA that "once we had put the installation together, reaching out to the malls, to the government, just to do a tour with the installation, it became a bit tricky because they were not sure exactly what the installation was about. But once they saw the beauty of it, once they saw the messages that were on it in terms of resilience, they both embraced it.”

Visual artist Peterson Kamwathi, one of the artists involved in the project, is putting the final touches on a piece he has been working on for more than a year. His works sell on average for $800 each.

But because of the pandemic, most galleries remain closed, leaving Kamwathi without a space to show his works. So participating in the mobile art installation proved to be a boon.

"It was an opportunity for artists to come together and collaboratively create something that depicts their presence and their continuity through this art," he said. "It was also an opportunity to bring our work, I think, in a very grand way into the public space."

The art installation is expected to be on display for at least another month, spreading its message of hope while promoting the works of the various artists involved.