Are you Kenyan? Map your body and find out

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Body maps: left, Sandeep Desai and right, Shabu Mwangi. Photos/Frank Whalley

Body maps: left, Sandeep Desai and right, Shabu Mwangi. Photos/Frank Whalley 


Posted  Friday, December 27   2013 at  13:26

In Summary

  • With large sheets of canvas and tubs of paint, Verhoest and Kamiru set out to explore the identity of Kenya and its citizens.

When I am finally packed off, drooling and incontinent, to an old folks’ home, I shall find a world of entertainment awaiting me.

I shall be taught how to weave baskets, given lots of bright colours to paint with, and even, if I am lucky, clay to model into useless ornaments.

Art as therapy.

There is something about us that longs to make a mark. Throughout the world, more than 30,000 years ago, men, women and children sprayed paint through hollow reeds over their hands to stencil their prints onto the walls of caves.

One of the first things a toddler is given is a colouring book. We are all hot-wired to decorate ourselves and our surroundings.

And so, with 50 years of Independence to celebrate in Kenya, what better way to join in the fun than a spot of body mapping?

Step forward the indefatigable Xavier Verhoest with his large sheets of canvas and tubs of paint, some volunteers willing to expose their innermost thoughts to the world, and a list of cogent questions to help them explore their identities and relationships.

The volunteers (perhaps patients is a better word) lie on a canvas, are drawn life-size in outline and left to colour themselves in and decorate the canvas how they wish. Answering the questions helps them to uncover their true feelings about life, love and everything.

They make meaning through symbols, and develop a map that illustrates different aspects of their lives and illuminates the paths they have chosen. I am told they all feel better for doing it. The results are usually exhibited so they can comment on their own and everyone else’s maps.

This is a popular art-as-therapy for people with HIV/Aids, helping them to understand their situation and coming to terms with it.

It can be used too to explore feelings on almost any subject. It depends on the questions being answered.

To celebrate Kenya’s golden jubilee, Verhoest and the artist Wambui Kamiru set out to explore the identity of Kenya and its citizens under the title, Who I am, who we are?

They were aiming to take the temperature of the nation and to assess if there was such a thing as a common Kenyan identity.

They hoped too that the canvases and accompanying narratives, once exhibited, would become a mirror for public debate.

Cogent questions included: “Are you Kenyan?” “How similar are you to other Kenyans?” and, “What makes you proud about Kenya?”

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