Kenya: Lamu’s First Art Festival a Success

By Margaretta Wa Gacheru

Lamu town was recently a hive of activity as the island hosted its first arts festival. The event, held over four days from February 12 to February 14, was a success going by the participation and support it received from residents and visitors.

Highlights of the festival included the Lamu Hat Contest, initiated at the grassroots by the local people themselves. The contest has been going on since 2010 after German philanthropist and part-time Lamu resident Herbert Menzer observed construction workers wearing jua kali helmet-styled hats made from recycled materials.

Menzer was so impressed by the men’s ingenuity that he initiated the first hat competition.

“That first contest was so successful that Herbert decided to organise the first Lamu Hat Contest [in 2010] and open it up to more people,” said friend and visiting artist Joachim Sauter, who started the painters’ festival.

Menzer is also credited with helping to identify the best sites for showing the visual art pieces — spaces like the Baraka Gallery in Lamu town where another sculptor, Sudanese artist Eltayeb Dawelbait and Ethiopian painter Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos — showcased their paintings, sketches and installations.

At the town square on February 12, there was live music from Lamu’s own Nazizi — who launched her first music video that night — Shamir and the popular Nairobi-based Kaya Collective who also performed the following night on Shela Beach

Kaya’s performance was followed by singer-songwriter guitarist Maia von Lekow whose stylish blend of coastal rhythms and jazz got the crowd on their feet. On Saturday February 13, Manda Island’s Diamond Beach Resort offered music sets by several DJs.

The fourth Lamu Hat Contest was held on Saturday and it was termed bigger and better than the previous three contests. The next exciting event were the “Mad Hatter” dhow races, which were very competitive.

The Fort Museum was used to showcase contemporary art by several artists. This included the Lamu Smiles photographs of Roland Klemp and images of Maweni stone carriers by Corrie Wingate.

There was a lovely watercolour collection by the British painter Sophie Walboeffe, all depicting real-life Lamu scenes that Sophie witnessed, often before dawn, at the market, the mosque or the shore front.

One wall at the Museum was dedicated to upcoming local artists like Isaiah Chep, Mohamed Issaf and Adam Musa — who is also the chairman of the Lamu Local Artists Association.

The highlight of the festival was the Hat Contest and it attracted almost 100 contestants. The winner was a peacock hat for its creativity and powerful political message — calling for a halt to plans to build a coal power plant project in Lamu. The smoke-coloured 10-feet tall hat won a standing ovation at the Lamu Arts Festival.

Source: All Africa