Ever since the creation of rudimentary cave drawings thousands of years ago, art has been a key pillar of human creativity and achievement throughout society. Human commitment to art does not falter, even in the face of extreme poverty such in the Kenyan slum of Kibera. Despite poor access to resources, little education, and acute financial struggles, residents of the slum nonetheless utilize art as a form of self expression, and as a means to uplift themselves culturally and economically.
The primary visual that is presented of Kibera is that of grimy dirt roads, dilapidated and corrugated buildings, haggling vendors, and lingering trash. What is often overlooked, however, is the vibrant presence of street art, which depicts a plethora of political, social, and comedic images. Like many other aspects of Kenyan culture, Kiberan art displays a vivid array of colors and patterns, creating a feeling of liveliness in the community.
However, the pursuit of art as a career is still difficult and inaccessible to most Kiberans. Not only are supplies expensive and difficult to come by, but well paying customers are few and far between. As a result, numerous talented Kiberans are unable to follow their talents and dreams, turning instead to alternatives that only contribute further to the drug and violence problems in the slum.
There are several organizations working to alleviate the conditions of the slum through art accessibility. One such organization is Kibera Creative Arts (KiCA), a community organization found at the heart of the slum that attempts to increase the engagement and accessibility of art, while also aiming to aid talented artists in turning their passion into a career. By making the creation of art in all forms, through dance, music, crafts, and more, they hope to guide community members away from engagement with drugs and crime, driving them to follow their passions while also connecting them with other artistic members of the slum.
Another similar such organization is the Uweza Art Foundation, which has a gallery in Kibera that provides residents with resources to create art, and the opportunity to display and sell it. The gallery is a channel through which artists’ creations can be displayed to a larger audience of people, also offering a much broader selection of buyers with more significant means to reward artists for their work. Those who display their art at the gallery are also responsible for marketing it, teaching them valuable skills that are translatable into other career paths. The funds received from art sales go primarily to the artist, and the remaining part goes to the foundation to allow future generations of artists the same opportunities.
There are many varying narratives that can be told of Kibera, but the story of its art and its creativity is one that has been long overlooked. It is vital to remember that residents of the slum have an equal desire to create, enjoy, and engage with art as those of us in the rest of the world, and that our reciprocal engagement with their creations can only aid them in improving their conditions for the future.