Following their mission “to advance the skills and opportunities of artists and make art a valued and integral part of our society”, Kuona Arts Trust organised in 2008 the 1st Urban Wasanii International Artist’s Workshop as a way of interrogating and interacting with local urban dwellers and urban public space in the Kenyan city of Mombasa. The interaction in public spaces was meant to contribute to a positive atmosphere and invite people to participate, to create or to congregate on the spaces chosen by the artists chose and to provide a forum for artists to congregate and freely create art that the public could enjoy on an ongoing basis.
The main goals of the Urban Wasanii Workshop were to:
The Urban Wasanii Workshop included 10 international artists coming from different locations like Ethiopia, Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, Botswana, The Netherlands, The Russian Federation, Uganda and Italy, who participated alonside 8 local artists. Therefore, another important goal of this project was to encourage cultural exchange of ideas and practice among the local and international artists.
Why was Urban Wasanii important fo the local (arts)community? For Kuona, the most effective way to raise awareness of a cause is to hold an event that entertains, interacts and educates the public. Thus, for them it was important to involve the public in an attempt to demystify art and art galleries, to promote the development of a sustainable cultural environment in Barsheba and to help the locals understand that art is a cultural practice that should be enjoyed by everyone who has access to it.
Interestingly, Kuona Trust did not pick out the spots where the artists would work. Instead, they took them around the whole city of Mombasa so the artists could choose the spaces which best fitted what they had in mind. Many of the artists chose to work in the neighborhood of Barsheba in conjunction with the local artists found there. The basic idea was to have Barsheba and any other spots in the city of Mombasa transformed into art galleries for the public. With this workshop the local people of Mombasa had the opportunity to check out unseen Kenyan and international artist’s who wanted to incorporate their art in addressing social issues in the localities like drug abuse, rampant unemployment, poverty and at the same time create artworks that will remain in the community they chose to work in.
Just to name a few examples:
American/Venezuelan artist Nayari Castillo initially stated that she wanted to work in Barsheba interacting with people, talking to them about their dreams in an attempt to create a body of work that would attempt to help the people she talked to. She identified a local tailor and dress maker whose ambition was to make it in her business. So Nayari’s idea was to make a video of her working and present it in the open day in a kiosk on the old town where a lot of people passed by and saw the work were a continuous looped video was played showing the tailor working on her sewing machine, cutting out garments with a pair of scissors and was played from 10 am til around 4 pm when it was ended. Nayari says that it worked out perfectly for her in that she had successfully managed to make the tailor from Barsheba known to the people in the streets of Mombasa and to a complete new audience through the work she created in the workshop.
Russian artist, Eveginia Golant did a series of life size portraits of people she picked in the streets of Barsheba on their way to the shops, the market or any other place they may have been going. Hers was an attempt to paint images of new people that she would not find in Russia or any other space within the city of St. Petersburg where she comes from.