For the past year, TICAH has been running an artist-led residency program at DreamKona, our public arts space within Uhuru Gardens. We call the program the “Rika Residency;” since “rika” means peer in Kiswahili, it seemed like an appropriate name. Over 7-10 days, we bring at least 20 artists together to create, learn from one another, and discuss topics important to artists. At the core of the program is a desire to bring studio and collective walls down and to bridge the gender and generational divide.
At each residency, we make sure we have artists of different ages and stages in their careers – pioneers (artists who may be retired now and were once prominent in the 80s), masters (artists who have made a name for themselves and came up in the 90s and who mentor others), established (artists who came up in the 20s and are building their practices) and emerging (artists who are coming up right now). Since the pandemic started, we have continued to work with the artist community by holding virtual Rika Residencies and public art events.
The wonderful artist Moira BushKimani, from the BrushTu artists collective, attended the Rika Residency on printmaking, which was held just before the pandemic came to Kenya. The DreamKona team recently asked if she would like to share her thoughts on the pandemic from the perspective of a practicing artist, on her participation in TICAH’s Rika Residency program and on the upcoming online Rika Residency focused on mental health.
As an artist, what is it like for you during this strange time?
There are a few times when we mistakenly feel like we have handled most of the hard things there are to handle and then there are the last 5 months of this year where the world has turned upside down and inside out. We don’t know if we are coming or going.
Though it is a priceless on-going study of human behavior, good and bad, during times of fear and confusion such as we are facing, the rising economic pressures caused by restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus are being felt far and wide and have left me questioning what on earth I am here for! I’m not too upset about the existential turmoil it has me facing; I believe I had it coming.
Being increasingly surrounded by music about Corona, murals about washing hands and people trying hard as hell to look sexy in masks has me curious how deeply this situation will affect art and how we perceive reality during this period. We are turning more and more to our screens to tell us what is going on rather than observing our immediate surroundings.
Though it is natural for visual artists to spend long periods of time in solitude or without much movement it has largely been a matter of choice to move or not to move. This hasn’t deterred the spirit to create, though. I have seen from my little window of social media as well as at our studio, people challenging themselves to create as they never have and giving time to experimentation and play. I am sure that artists are not the only people who have used this period to flourish.
What was the Rika Residency like for you?
I particularly liked the “leveling” of the playing field as far as all of us coming in and just enjoying catching up/getting to know each other as we pick up and perfect the skills taught. To have thoroughly seasoned artists, pioneers/retired artists, emerging and all in between getting a chance to sit and take a class together makes for wonderful cross-pollination of ideas. It was a perfect learning environment out in the open where the funny stories left me wondering when next I would have an opportunity to take part again.
Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming virtual Rika Residency on mental health?
Although uncertainty is an occupational hazard for the artist, facing a pandemic has it at unprecedented levels. Many practicing artists navigate this mostly unsupported industry by sheer will power and connections they work to build. This being the nature of things, we as artists sometimes forget to share our hardships with one another in useful ways where we can provide mutual support. Just as the previous Rika Residencies helped form relationships across age groups and mediums it would be a great spark to form mutual support systems for our mental health through some form of guided process, discussion, or activity. We often think we are alone until somebody opens their mouth and spells out our problems word for word. If we can make a neutral platform where we can talk through these issues amongst ourselves we are more likely to come up with solutions that are relevant to our practice.
With or without the pandemic, we have lost too many artists to depression and drugs, which I feel is ultimately due to a lack of support.
To learn more about Moira BushKimani, check out the following:
If you would like to be part of the Rika Residency program or offer some support to our artists (a kind word, an idea, a donation, an art piece, a poem) please email us at email@example.com