Veteran visual artists urged to embrace 'Artivism' Fellowship

By Guardian Correspondent , The Guardian
Published at 05:24 AM Jun 15 2024
Jackson Obare, Regional Manager for the ForumCiv organization (4th R), presides over the launch of the 2024 'Artivism' Fellowship at Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.
Photo: Guardian Correspondent
Jackson Obare, Regional Manager for the ForumCiv organization (4th R), presides over the launch of the 2024 'Artivism' Fellowship at Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.

EXPERIENCED visual artists in Tanzania should fully use seminars, workshops, and other opportunities for learning so they can successfully champion activism via their profession.

Veteran cartoonist, Samwel Mwamkinga, advised during the unveiling of selected trainees for Nafasi Academy's new program, dubbed 'Artivism', at Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam recently.

"One of the big problems facing (veteran) artists is they, in most cases, feel they no longer want to learn new approaches after they have achieved success to a certain extent. An artist is however always required to learn, adapt to changes, and operate as per modern days' demands," Mwamkinga, popularly known by his artistic name 'Sammy Joune', revealed.

He pointed out: "There are, for instance, many changes in how visual artists operate. We have already discarded traditional styles and embraced modern approaches. We no longer rely much on creating artworks via papers and canvases. Nowadays we have computers containing all necessary working tools, we therefore have to change."

"We can still keep our traditional ways but we can transform them into digital ways. Changes, at some point, are inevitable, the world is now moving so fast, one might, for instance, be asked to prepare two artworks for a newspaper within 30 minutes, if he/she clings to traditional styles, he/she would not beat the deadline and eventually lose his/her job to younger visual artists that deploy modern styles. Learning therefore is a must," Mwamkinga, whose career in visual art began in the 1990s and has worked for various local print media outlets, stressed. 

The training on 'Artivism', which reflects the use of various forms of arts to foster activism, is organized by Nafasi Art Space in conjunction with an organization, ForumCiv, which works with marginalized communities in Kenya so they can have the power to effect changes in the country.

Nafasi Art Space's Visual Art Manager, Firdaus Mbogho, said 10 artists make the 2024 'Artivism' Fellowship cohort and engage in various art genres including theater/film, illustration/cartooning, digital art, contemporary dance, and literature. 

The training, hosted by Nafasi Art Space, according to Firdaus, got underway at the center's premises at Mikocheni on Monday and will conclude on September 30. 

She said Nafasi Art Space is proud of the development and is confident that arts can play a part in bringing changes in society in a variety of ways.

The 'Artivism' Fellowship cohort has Mwamkinga, Ayoub Kondo, Marina Juma, Paul Nhiga, Pandakilima Kesha, Rebecca Makundi, Kepha Simba, Ibrahim Jonathan, Paul Lukumay, and Weshy Lema.

ForumCiv's official, Winifred Nkadha Konge, said the organization has been operating in Tanzania for 18 months under a center known as SASA, which advocates for social accountability and is funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

According to Winifred, the 'Artivism' Fellowship will come to an end in September this year and she expressed optimism her organization will extend its collaboration with the foundation to continue coordinating the program in the country.

She stated that ForumCiv coordinates the 'Artivism' Fellowship because the organization believes that arts can serve as an effective tool for bringing changes in society.

Winifred noted that there are so many social issues that affect people in the community, therefore, her organization believes artists can become activists and bring changes in the community via their talent. Culture and media, she disclosed, can also play a part in bringing changes.

She disclosed her organization is holding the 'Artivism' Fellowship for three reasons, the first of which is building the capacity for creative industry practitioners to bring changes in their community.

She remarked that her organization is seeking to fulfil its mission through the 'Artivism' Fellowship session that will take place at Nafasi Art Space.

The trainees, she disclosed, can also gain more knowledge from experienced creative industry practitioners who will mentor the trainees so the latter can become better activists.

The program will, moreover, provide a platform for inter-generational learning, in which both youthful artists and their experienced counterparts will learn better means for using their talent to vouch for activism.

Winifred pointed out that ForumCiv is, through the 'Artivism' Fellowship, also keen on ensuring creative industry practitioners operate in a better environment in finances and government support.

She said her organization will, through the program, see to it that artists have a meaningful dialogue with

decision-makers so the latter can ensure the former operates in a better environment. 

Winifred revealed that ForumCiv is out to coordinate a forum in either August or September this year, bringing together artists from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania to come up with challenges affecting them and solutions for such challenges.

The solutions, she added, will be submitted to the decision-makers who will work on them to back the artists.

She pointed out that ForumCiv is, via an 'Artivism' Fellowship, further seeking to improve the artists' lives, stressing that artists should gain financially from their works.

ForumCiv's Regional Manager, Jackson Obare, revealed the forthcoming 'Artivism' Fellowship follows a pilot program held in Kenya in 2022, with the cohort constituting 15 artists.

According to Obare, out of the 15 trainees, four have become successful practitioners in their respective art genres.

"If an artist does not have anyone that can support him/her, it will be difficult for the artist to achieve success. Thus, we need this regional and international collaboration and networks to support the work the artists are doing," he remarked.

"This is not just an inauguration of an academy but the beginning of a strong movement of young artists doing different things that blend the power of art with the passion of activism- a transformative fusion called 'Artivism'," Obare remarked.

"'Artivism' is a dynamic intersection of art and activism, and we are using a creative expression to drive social justice/change, give voice to the voiceless, and challenge the status quo. Through art, we can illuminate issues that matter the most to us," Obare pointed out.

He stated some sensitive issues could, for instance, be hidden in songs, adding: "(Artivism) is a way of bringing up issues in many ways, these issues could be justice, equality, environment, and human rights. They are core issues that affect us, and we find a way of expressing our desire to seek change the way we want it to be and art is the most powerful (way)."

The ForumCiv Regional Manager further revealed his organization will, next month, launch another 'Artivism' Fellowship in Nairobi. 

Nafasi Academy is an initiative focusing on nurturing artistic talents and promoting cultural exchange, which is coordinated by Nafasi Art Space.