Friday, June 25, 1999
Championing Ogiek cause through
By KAPLICH BARSITO
Budding artist Patrick Tuwei, has
no mystic air around him common with accomplished artists, but his
paintings have the rare ability to provoke an upsurge of emotion.
For him, there is no better source of inspiration to painting a
good picture than the tribulations of his Ogiek people and their
unique lifestyle practised deep in Tinet forest in Molo.
His latest sketch captures a
dramatic scene, showing armed policemen wearing helmets setting
Ogiek houses on fire while others stand guard to ensure no
villager comes back.
One officer, scorn written all over
is face, callously chops off the head of a she-goat taken from the
miserable residents as his colleague arrives with a shoulder-load
of firewood, ready to roast their kill.
These are the memories that come
alive in Tuwei's mind every time he takes up a brush and oil
paints to create artistic work. "Although some of these
things happened in 1974 when I was only a child, they are fresh in
my mind as though they happened yesterday," he says.
Constant evictions from their
traditional homeland in the Tinet forest has pushed the 10,000
people Ogiek community on the war path with the government with
the authorities saying the Ogiek were squatting on gazetted land.
But the Ogiek who are closely related to the Dorobo say they have
lived in the forest since the colonial period.
When not painting on the woes of
his people, Tuwei is busy creating striking pieces based on the
Ogiek way of life. The artist assigns brief titles or catch
phrases to each of the paintings which describe what the picture
is all about. Height and fight is an oil painting of
a man scaling a high thorny tree. He is determined to reach the
top where a beehive hangs from one of the branches. But reaching
the top is only half the task, the other being to confront the
bees to access the honey.
That, the 27-year-old artist says
is what life is all about. "We struggle to achieve our
desires and once we have them we enter an even bigger struggle to
The African Woman symbolises
the rural African woman. With a child strapped on the front, a
heavy load on her back and some hand luggage, the painting gives
impetus to the oft quoted phrase that the rural woman was a beast
Other pieces have philosophical
interpretations. Off the Mark is one such painting. It is
the picture of a woman emerging from darkness into a lighted area.
Tuwei says the moral behind the painting is that life is enjoyable
if one starts with lack and proceeds to abundance.
Master of destiny is a
depiction of human nature: The struggles for survival, emotional
upheavals, cruelty, greed, ambition and power. Here are two
warriors starting from the same point and taking opposite
directions. One has his spear and sword unsheathed, ready and
spoiling for a fight. The other has both weapons sheathed and
instead of clutching the javelin at the ready, he carries a
seedling signifying interest in building and not destruction.
"People are born innocent of
evil but as they grow up, some choose to be bad and others to be
good," Tuwei who dropped out of form three for lack of fees,
Tuwei, who has just begun painting
abstracts, says this mode of art is more fulfilling as it
stretches one's creativity to the limit. "An abstract has to
be complex and yet the viewer should be able to decipher the
Tuwei's love for art began in
childhood. Then the only tools at his disposal was the ground and
his fingers. He would sketch vehicles, animals and human beings on
the soil and take pride in drawing objects of various shapes and
He enrolled at Barao Primary School
within Tinet Forest in 1980. Three years later the school was
razed by government agents who ordered the Ogiek to quit the
Tuwei was forced to go and stay
with a relative in order to continue with schooling. After
completing primary, Tuwei joined Olunguroene Secondary School
where he dropped out due to lack of fees. By then, he had enhanced
his painting skills.
Out of school and with no gainful
employment, Tuwei decided to paint artistic work for sell. It was,
however, only after he met American volunteer teacher Deborah
Moorhead, of Teachers for Africa, that he got in touch with Kuona
Trust at the Museums of Kenya that he received training.
So far, Tuwei has sold his works to
several embassies and looks forward to doing business with local
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