Interview with Omosh Kindeh, a visual artist who works at Kuona Trust.
Interviewers: Anna Lafrentz and Stefanie Habben
Would you first tell us something about you and your art?
I'm Omosh Kindeh, a visual artist. I like painting, sculpting and my style is to portray the human habitat around Nairobi, different types of settlement, and the experiences that I see every day. Then, I put them into canvas or into sculpture. I've been an artist since March 2000, and this is what I do every day.
What affects you and what inspires you?
It depends, but actually I get my inspiration from the environment and the society I live in which is quite different from my childhood. I also choose to memorize my childhood, and then come to current endeavours and experiences of everyday life, and this makes me an artist.
And what are the differences between your childhood and your life now?
I grew up in a military setting where everything was arranged and disciplined. But outside here, everything is free and everyone minds his own business. And when I was a kid, I was a kid to these barracks, so everybody was my parent, anyone could punish me. That makes the difference between my childhood and now.
How would you describe your life as an artist here in the city of Nairobi?
I think it's easier in Nairobi, given that Nairobi is cosmopolitan. So if I go, for example, to Nyeri, I find Kikuyus there. If I go to Kisumu, I find Luos there, but Nairobi is cosmopolitan, and that's where my art is being celebrated. So that's why I prefer it here. But if I reach a point at which I want to establish myself, then Nairobi would be just to market myself, doing exhibitions. In terms of establishment, Nairobi is not the right place for me.
How did you make the decision to live as an artist?
On the side of my mum's family, I had the advantage to meet her grandfather. So my mum's grandfather was a sculptor and I think I took that from him. And then, my mum's father was in the military and, in fact, that's where my mum and my dad met, and the only thought they had on me was not to get interested in becoming a soldier. I understood that I have a talent and kept on doing it. Maybe when I was in class 5, I was about 10 years old, I used to do small crafts. My art teacher used to like it and encouraged me, and he's my friend up to date and he likes that I'm an artist, as well. To me, I see that as a success.
Can you do art for a living?
I started practicing it, now it's like I'm perfecting it. I joined Kuona Trust at the 10th of March 2000, and I've been living through with art. Though, challenges have been there, and I know how to go through it. At the moment, I try to invest in things, so that when art is not paying my bills, I can pay my bills from other investments.
How do Kenyan people see art in general? Do they appreciate?
Less than 1% appreciate. They think art is for rich people or wazungu, white people.
But Kenya has rich people, as well.
Yeah, they do.
But they're not interested?
Probably on a professional level. ‘Cause I've had organizations that are buying my pieces, but not individuals, actually.
Why do you think that is?
I think we need a lot of education to educate our locals that they come on. We are trying to educate them, but still they have other priorities to spend the money for something else than buying art.
Is there any art education in school?
In our syllabus, it used to be, but now you find it only in private schools, ‘cause it was cut off in the system of education. So you only find art education in private schools, or on a college level, but we don't have any serious art academies. Though, we have Kenyatta University, Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts, and a few other creatives. But the colleges are expensive if you compare it with other disciplines. They're charging very high to study art. Just like I told you, no serious art academy.
Did you teach yourself autodidactically?
My art teacher in primary school level was an artist. Back then, I learned from him how I to use oil paint when I was a little kid. At that time, there was a subject like art and craft in school. But there are some materials I just came up with when I started doing art professionally. In school, I never knew these things that I'm using now.
Do you want to talk about your working progress? What are your first steps before you start painting?
If you look carefully at my paintings, you will see there's some texture. I make fire when the weather is like this, just to keep warm. After the fire is gone, I like to use the ash and the soil in my studio, because it's an open space. When the canvas is still wet, I apply the soil mixed with the ash and then leave it to dry for a while. I hate using new materials. So that's how I make them look older. Then, I'm comfortable to start working on it.
And what are the themes of your work?
Whenever I'm making my trips to and from my studio, I pass a lot of different kinds of settlements and so I pick which one I want, sometimes I even mix. Like this area looks very posh, and where I come from it looks old and lower class. So I mix all these and create something beautiful everybody wants to own. That's how I always work.