Interview Beth Kimwele, Artist at Kuona Trust Art Centre.
Interviewers: Philipp Günther, Isabella Schulz and Sabrina Loll
Thank you for your time. Please introduce yourself with your full name, and tell us something about how long you have been working as an artist.
My name is Beth Kimwele, I´m have been working as an artist for many years. Here in Kuona Trust, I have been working for four years. Before that, I was somewhere else.
Why did you decide to work here?
The place is very nice, because we are all different artists. So we learn from each other. Working in an art centre is quite helpful for us artists, the environment is very good, there are visitors coming and looking at our work. I love the environment. Here, you can find peace, even when a lot is going on. The environment is very friendly for creative work.
Do you think the surrounding has an influence on your artwork?
Yes, it does have an influence on my work; in fact, it has a lot of influence! Sometimes, I look at the tree, sometimes I look at the sculptures... and that influences my pieces.
You talked about how, for example, the tree inspires you. Is there anything else that you can draw inspiration from?
A: I would say from the artists who are also here. ‘Cause I love to walk around and see what they are doing, so, they also inspire me. Some of them are from different countries, their styles are very different... they inspire me a lot. Sometimes, I borrow one or two things from them. ‘Cause it can´t be 100% of your own creations here, so I tend to borrow that from the artists here.
What about the city of Nairobi. Does the city influence your work?
Ah, that’s funny! You know, my themes are very traditional. Once in a while, I´ll do something about the city, but I´m more traditional. I don´t know why. I think I need to come to the city more often to do a few city themes. But there are more women in my pieces. I do a lot of women things, I´m slowly living the old traditional model.
Speaking about women: Is it a challenge to be a woman here, working here in the art centre? Because, there are not many women here...
(laughs) I think I got used to it. When I was in college, there were only a few women. Even when I went to work, and also while practising my art... Is it a challenge? No... But in a way it is. Yeah, I think when it comes to selling art, people tend to buy more of the men’s work than the women’s work. That´s what I´m seeing. Yes, they support men more.
Are you reflecting your position as a woman in society?
Yes. You know, the day to day activities is a kind of a traditional women’s work. And my art work, my themes, are based on women.
Do you want to tell us something about your favourite piece?
Ok. My favourite piece is called Wanjiku. It´s about when women in Kenya sometimes doing traditional things, like fetching water from the rivers, taking care of the children at home, it´s quite simple but very effective. Wanjiku is a kind of carrying a heavy load on their head. It´s something about the traditional women, the work they do, the market, the village.
Why is it your favourite?
Why it´s my favourite? I think I captured that theme very well. It tells a lot, how the face looks like, the expression of the eyes, it´s a very powerful painting.
Like powerful women!
(laughs) They seem to be simple, but in their own way they are powerful.
Why did you choose to express yourself through art?
I don´t know. I think I found myself, I expressing myself through art from a younger age; I always used to draw, paint, and so on. It´s a thing that just happened. It´s just a talent that grew.
Is it hard to subsist on your art?
It´s hard (laughs), it´s not easy... right now, I´m also teaching. I´m working as a teacher, so when I have some free time, I´ll be here painting over the weekend. In fact, painting fulltime: Life was too hard. I needed some money for my children, for the house... so it´s not easy. Unless you have a really good marketer. I don´t see one here! (laughs). So it´s not easy. Especially for a woman, it is not easy.
Why is it especially hard for women?
I don´t know... it´s hard to go out and look for people who are buying my art... so where to go? Where to go? But in general, I have to say in the last years, something has changed. More of society comes to buy a piece of work.
So you have Kenyan buyers, too.
Yes! I have Kenyan buyers! I do have Kenyan buyers. The recipients are more, of course, but more and more Africans are coming to buy, more Kenyans coming to buy. They are appreciating it.
Would you say it´s a matter of education?
Yeah, it depends a lot on education who attends or appreciates art work.
What is your wish for the future, especially as an artist?
(thinks) ...Ok, what I always wanted to do... I would love to have an own gallery. Ok, maybe not a gallery, maybe a place like Kuona. Where there are a lot of different artists, coming there to work. Where young, upcoming artists can come to that space, and where the older and the younger artists inspire each other. That´s what I would love to see!