The exhibition took shape by simply asking the relevant people we knew for artwork. Sadia, a member of the SAMOSA team, generously gave us a photographic series she was involved in calling out Gender-Based Violence in Kenya, which was previously shown at the Shifteye Gallery. Angela Wells, communications officer at Jesuit Refugee Services was eager to give powerful paintings by Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia on migration a wider audience, especially as Kenya had just announced it was closing Dadaab and greater numbers than ever are risking their lives on the journey to Europe due to insecurity in their homelands. Victor Ndula, the editorial cartoonist for the Star Newspaper, provided artworks by four refugee artists, Mudey, Noor Ali, Tariku, and Cuba. Victor mentors refugee artists at the Dadaab and Kakuma camps through the UNHCR program Artists for Refugees.
Bwana Mdogo, a cartoonist, who had attended several SAMOSA events, let us show his cartoons, some of which were inspired by his recent time spent in Eastleigh. One cartoon satirized the true story of the land grabbing of a medical dispensary. In the corner of one wall, old photographs from the government organization Kenya News Agency, depicting Eastleigh and surrounding areas in the 50s, 60s, and 70s hung with a view of present day Eastleigh out of the window. Locals appreciated the photos, giving many a sense of pride in their neighbourhood. KNA are currently in the process of digitizing hundreds of thousands of photos, soon everyone can search their vast database online.
A call to artists from the area to showcase their artwork through word of mouth proved more fruitful than expected, with a number of local artists bringing several impressive pieces. The local artist Alphonce who also exhibited his mixed media paintings, took on the role of caretaker, greeting visitors and opening and closing the exhibition space everyday.
We officially launched the art exhibition which had been open to the public for the past three weeks, on World Humanitarian Day. This was an opportunity to celebrate the artists and to show a short JRS film by Angela Wells. The paintings by Eritrean refugees are heart-breaking in their depiction of loved ones making the perilous journey to Europe by land and sea. It was important for a community that is directly affected by the subject matter to see these paintings. Angela hopes the art can help to change people’s minds here and in the camps, people who are thinking about making the journey; but also hopes to change policy in Europe for better, more humane refugee laws. The series of paintings will move to Rome and then to the USA.
The launch was a community event, with community and youth leaders, Somali women, local residents and members of the Oromo community in attendance. Clive Wanguthi, a social activist from Eastleigh and contributor to SAMOSA 7 emceed the afternoon proceedings. There was traditional Somali poetry from Ina Cawsgurow, who also had his book of poetry for sale. Of Cawsgurow’s performance: a Somali community leader who works with refugees showed me his arm and said it had given him goose bumps. Young Somali poets Kheyr, Ayan, and Jibril performed spoken word pieces on belonging and identity in English. Kheyr and Ayan, cofounders of Islamic Arts Movement - a Nairobi based group that started out on Whatsapp promoting arts within and across Muslim communities - helped organize and get the word out for the launch. We had one of the refugee artists in attendance, Mudey from Eastleigh, who had the most artworks on display. He was congratulated by the audience for his vivid, decorative and nostalgic paintings. There was a celebratory mood, with samosas and bhajia from our local Mpambe Dishes and tea. Community organizers like Said and Fawzia Jamal, known to everyone in California as Mama Deno, rose to make remarks about the significance of the occasion and on bringing art to the community. It was the first event of its kind in California and possibly in Eastleigh. The exhibition simply called ‘Art in Eastleigh’ was a success, which left many of the attendees asking the same question, ‘when is the next one?’
The SAMOSA team would like to thank our partners for sponsoring the various events and the many actors who actualised them. The entire organisation was accomplished in a truly communal spirit which has been the focus of SAMOSA since its inception. We would like to express a special appreciation to the Eastleigh community for their hospitality, the welcome they accorded us and their co-operation at all times. The various venues were made available to us at no cost and this contributed significantly to the success of the Festival. Most importantly it offered an opportunity and a platform to explore and discuss, to exchange ideas and confront perceptions, to learn about other cultures and make new friends.
Asante sana – tunawashukuru!
SAMOSA Festival 7 team 2016