Village haven for creatives

Saturday March 21 2020

Karen Village in Nairobi provides space to artists

Karen Village in Nairobi provides space to artists. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
By MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
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More than 10 years ago, Anthony Athaide told artists at Ramoma Gallery about his vision of establishing Karen Village on 10 acres of land that he owned on Ngong Road in Nairobi.

His vision was to create a multidisciplinary space where Kenyan artists could put up studios, exhibitions and workshops, catering to contemporary artists as well as children.

"We are not only thinking about artists who are working right now," Athaide said.

"We also want to develop the creativity of the next generation and generations to come. That’s why we are building a children’s art centre.

"We currently have 4,500 people working there," he says, referring to the artists, masons and people constructing the gallery, museum, theatre and children’s centre.

"A number of the artists who have studios at Karen Village are employing people to help them complete their projects," he said.

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One of them is the painter and glass artist Sebawali Sio. When I met her recently, she was working with welders to stabilise the base of a life-sized sculpture.

“I came to Karen Village to apprentice with the glass artist Tonney Mugo. I quickly discovered I loved working with glass,” Sio said.

Another artist who employs people at the Village is Zippy Okoth, who is a filmmaker, actor, university lecturer and institution builder.

“Zippy’s Legacy Arts and Film Lab are based in our African Creativity Centre,” says Anoushka Athaide (Anthony's daughter) who manages the Village.

“We also host international artists who apply for our art residencies,” she added. One block near the Creativity Centre will have room for 12 artists.

Karen Village collaborates with a number of universities including Kenyatta University and USIU-A.

Artists working there include filmmakers, glass artists, graffiti artist Uhuru Brown, jewellery designers Wanja Gathungu of Encompass Art and Nakshi glass, leather artist Moses Ekwiy and painters Anne Mwiti, Moses Wanjuki and Martin Musyoka.

The Village has social entrepreneurs like Nayiai Baraka, whose foundation works with a Samburu women’s group to sell their beaded jewellery and bags.