Jennifer Msekwa loves both art and the environment in equal measure, and combines the two to make her personalised pieces.
The environmentalist cum visual artist uses natural elements from her surroundings to make collages that seek to raise awareness about environmental preservation, and to maintain her artistic identity.
Professionally trained at the Institute of Art and Culture in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, Msekwa's artwork centres around nature.
"The environment gives me raw materials, which are the basis of the identity of my artworks. I don’t use man-made material," she said.
She said all the natural materials that she uses in her collages do not harm the environment and are sustainable. She is aware that climate change contributes to endangering almost every plant or natural objects, and she chooses to "recycle" natural material in her art.
“I grew up in a family who are protective of the environment, so this instilled in me the same ideas,” said Msekwa.
She uses leaves, soil, grass and every natural thing she can find. For example, she says; “I chose to do the smoking pipe piece, Kiko because I am allergic to cigarette smoke. I did it to show those who smoke how their actions, through second-hand smoke, also affects those around them.
She said Kiko means a lot to her personally because of the message and also because the final result and the theme of the artwork made her happy.
On smoking as a health issue she says, “I will do a campaign on social media and post the artwork and hope people will repost it in large numbers because it is good for everyone to participate because every person's health is in danger. I am planning to do it this year until the message reaches the government to take action on tobacco and smoking.”
Msekwa has had several collaborative projects and exhibitions, both locally and internationally.
She said she chooses topics for her artwork to target everyone who comes across it, not just a Tanzanian audience.
“Foreigners love my art too because they also understand it and they value it too. Tanzanians tend to take art for granted,” she said.
She said her inspiration comes from nature and God’s creation.
“If you look at my work, as a human being, it does not have the same quality as the work of God, which is beyond description, said Msekwa.
But nature to her is beyond what exists independently. For example, her piece Hehe woman is one of her favourite artworks because it captures the traditional beauty facial markings done by the ethnic group.
Fewer Hehe women still do the face markings, meaning the younger generation are at risk of losing this part of their culture. She therefore uses her art to remind and also preserve for posterity.
"What I do not like about my artwork is that it takes a long time to complete each piece. I am talking about stress and sleepless nights, but I love and enjoy the effort because it is from the bottom of my heart and I find it very fulfilling," she said.
Msekwa said all her artwork has a title.
"I do not draw a picture without a title. It is very important to have a title as it helps with recognition of each individual piece. All professional artists do this," she added.