“It is not easy for ladies to express themselves because the environment isn’t pushing that energy for them to do so. But when art is involved somehow they get a voice of their own through their artwork,” says Faith Atieno a Visual Artist and Founder of Art 360 Kibera.
Art 360 Kibera was founded in 2019 by Faith as a platform where young people with creative minds in different aspects of art would find solace and grow in their talent. Born and raised in the informal settlement of Kibra, Jane grew up with a passion for everything but the environment she was in lacked not only the resources she needed to excel in her work but also the moral support in terms of mentorship in that field. But despite all odds, she embarked on a journey of self-discovery through self-taught art and using the same skills to inspire young persons in the same field to excel in their work.
“I founded Art 360 to enable the youths from Kibera to get a free space to grow their talent something I wasn’t able to get when I began. Being in the slum area I wanted someone who could guide me on my passion for art which I wasn’t able to. And also the lack of materials dint make it any easier so having that experience and knowing there are other struggling artists in the same setting I felt the need to start up the gallery as a way of giving back to my community and inspiring young artist to step up and contribute something to the society, ’’she said.
The gallery’s foundation wasn’t based on specializing in just one technic of art but art at all angles and inclusivity of all creative minds from all ages as young as 3 years old. The students train on weekends and during school holidays, for free. Apart from the visual arts, among them are young music composers and filmmakers who get to also do what they love. They recycle waste material ranging from boards to glass bottles to be used as a canvas for their artwork. Among them is 20year old Christine Achieng a second-year student studying Medical Laboratory Science and Technology as well as an artist?
“It wasn’t easy to get a place where I could practice my artwork yet again those that knew me questioned my sort of queer interest in learning the skill since I am a girl. But I still loved what I could do with those skills especially after coming here and getting someone I could relate with. I’ve learned a lot and want to contribute to my community by training and mentoring young people is not only the art skills I’ve learned so far but also something related to my field of study, ’’she narrates.
Bernard Maingi works at the gallery as the program coordinator as well as the Communication personnel For him art is more than just an outlet of creativity and splashing of paint on a canvas. But serves as a means of communication to the girls and young ones as well just like Christine.
‘’The gallery is a free space that’s why even the members themselves come on their own. And through the mentorship program and analyzing their artwork you get to understand they all come here for different reasons. Some come because they genuinely want to learn while others especially the young girls come to escape from something affecting them, all through which can be seen through their art piece. And over time as they continue progressing with enhancing their skills they get stronger and powerful and can easily tackle those issues on their own, ’’he said.
Faith sees art in the same light, especially for young girls and women in society. She describes it as being therapeutic and a source of love to all that practice it, speaking from an experience she had.
”Remembering my own experience before I started, I wasn’t feeling beautiful in my skin as I grew up and when I started painting people appreciated me and in the process, they’ll compliment me as beautiful. And that’s how art gave me love and made me love myself for who I am. The same can be said with the murals that we do all over Kibera. They educate and sensitize the community on social issues as well as empower women to be creative in their different settings so that they get to stand out instead of being compressed to what the society has dimmed them to be,’’ she adds.
But just like any other success story the gallery has had its share of challenges some of which they try to tackle up to now.
‘’Getting the support from the community was a challenge for they had not embraced its value yet. I realized it will take time for them to understand and be on board with the idea I was trying to emulate which they did afterward, ’Faith explains.
‘’Another challenge would be the space and getting resources. The gallery isn’t funded by anyone and neither does it impose charges provided you come from Kibera. we use funds from the sale of the artwork to manage its expenses, where 70% of the sale goes to the artist as the rest is allocated to run the gallery which sometimes isn’t enough given that we have a lot of people accessing the gallery especially now during the holiday ,’’ adds Bernard.
Despite the setbacks art 360 celebrates the achievements they’ve had so far with Faith being the woman of Concern award holder 2021 for the impact the gallery has had on the community. The children too got a chance to celebrate Christmas at the statehouse through the recognition of their work. And as time goes by she hopes the lives she has touched through the gallery would advance and make an even greater impact than she has.