ANNE MWITI, GLOBAL AWARD-WINNING PAINTER
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 20.2.2018 but written 4.2016)
Don’t let her diminutive and delicate demeanor deceive you. Anne Mwiti is no ordinary doctoral candidate in fine art at Kenyatta University. She’s actually an award-winning Kenyan artist who’s exhibited her work both locally and internationally, and on one occasion even shared gallery space with no less an imminent person than the late, great South African Head of State Nelson Mandela who’d occupied a fair amount of time while incarcerated on Robbin Island learning to paint. He also managed to assemble a substantial collection of works which the Belgravia Gallery in London managed to obtain so as to include in their 2014 World Citizen Artists Award Exhibition.
Anne Mwiti was also in that exhibition, only she had first taken part in the Awards Competition as did hundreds of other artists from all round the world. The difference between them and her is that she was one of the top 15 finalists selected to feature in the prestigious global arts show.
Another difference is that she was the only African (and one of the few women) to be among those top 15. But probably most important of all, Anne earned First Prize for her highly symbolic abstract painting that depicted her perspective on war and peace, including her deep-seated feelings derived from her personal experience of Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence.
Using multiple layers of white and black acrylic paint, Anne’s painting looks deceptively simple. The upper half is white symbolizing peace, justice and hope while the lower half is jet black, symbolizing the antithetical themes of death, destruction and war.
There are two more colored lines in her painting which she includes where the basic black and white colors converge. One is red, symbolic of the bloodshed in times of war generally, and specifically, during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence. The other color line is green, again significant of the fertility, lush abundance and prosperity that can come once there’s peace and reconciliation established among the former adversaries.
The key to the painting’s meaning is first in the title ‘A Stitch in Time’ and then in the threaded needle that’s been used to cross-stitch across the antithetical colors but which has been left dangling half-way through the color lines.
Explaining that her painting (which she’s now selling for Sh1 million in her Karen Village studio) has an interactive feature to it, Anne said that peacemakers are meant to pick up the needle and complete the cross-stitching.
“It’s meant to signify that the reconciliation process [on both a global and a local level] has yet to be completed, but there is a way forward if people will only continue working to make it happen.”
Anne went to London to receive her award in late 2014, after which she returned to KU where she’s been teaching, mentoring, mounting art exhibitions and mothering her two children ever since. She’s also married to man who she says is extremely supportive of her work and the sort of hours only a workaholic can keep.
Anne admits that she could be called a workaholic except that she’s been a high-energy activist all her life, especially from age five when her father, the head teacher at her Rwanderi Primary School in rural Meru County first put a pencil in her hand and got her started drawing and painting.
Her father also taught her Mathematics and English, but since he was an artist in his spare time, he’d sit with his first born child for hours, prodding her to paint and advising her on how to enhance her drawing.
Anne loved the rural life and took part in all the domestic chores that other little girls had to do, like fetching firewood and water from the river. The only difference between them and her was that the land on which they played belonged to her family, so she really didn’t have to work that hard. “But it was so much fun since we all saw it not as hard work but as play,” she said.
From her mother, Anne learned to stitch, crochet and knit. “I used to make my own dolls out of maize husks and then stitch clothes for them.” That early experience is partly what inspired her painting “A Stitch in Time”.
But as much as her imaginative upbringing prepared her to become both an artist and mentor, Anne is curious about what changes make children lose their early spontaneity and inhibit their imagination. That’s what she’s currently researching for her doctorate, which is why she spent the last six months teaching art to children in Kibera slum.