Archive 1999

Friday, June 25, 1999

Championing Ogiek cause through art


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 keep them."

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 of burden.

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, points out.

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 message."

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 sizes.

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 forest.

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 galleries.

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