By Margaretta wa gacheru (posted 23 Ocotber 2018)
Tafaria Castle may be best understood as ‘a dream come true’ for George Tafaria Waititu. Yet the ‘dream’ is still a work in progress.
It’s been nearly a decade since Mr Waititu began breaking ground in the rural region once known as Deighton Downs but named by locals, including his mum, as Kangawa. Nonetheless, the Castle itself is only one feature of Mr Waititu’s expansive vision.
The man who made his mark in the Kenyan financial world as a brilliant market research analyst has already proved he is also a poet, having self-published his own book of poetry entitled ‘Soul of Tafaria’.
But one hadn’t counted on his also building a centre for the arts. But he has. What’s more, the Tafaria Centre for the Arts officially opened last Saturday with an Inaugural exhibition that featured some of Kenya’s most interesting young artists. Some are from Brush tu Art Studio, others from Maasai Mbili and others from Kuona Artists Alliance. That includes Kevin Oduor who is the brave heart who agreed to attend Tafaria’s first art residency with Cyrus Kabiru back in 2013. That was years before the Centre was built, the artists’ workshop and studio space constructed; and artists’ living quarters erected.
Even so, Kevin has a similar sort of imagination, ingenuity and tenacity as Waititu, such that both he and Cyrus managed, after one month, to create amazing works of art.
Kevin is also the one who coordinated artists and Tafaria transport to bring a host of Kenyans up to the inaugural event of the newly-built Centre. By now, Waititu’s vision had grown to recognize the need for a multi-purpose art space that can serve not only visual artists but also designers, creative writers and even performing artists.
He also sees the need for artists to embrace the local community and expose it more broadly to the arts.
“We’ve already witnessed the interest we’ve generated among the youth,” says Waititu who has every artist-in-residence at Tafaria create a project that involves locals, be they school children or adults.
Peter Walala, who’s one of the two resident artists currently at the Castle (Jimmy Githaka is the other), offers an illustration of the eye-opening impact that his art has already made locally.
He is currently working on a huge tree stump that the Waititus first saw as a local woman was taking it home in her donkey cart. “She wouldn’t sell it since she said she needed it for firewood. So we went out and got her a ‘meco’ [small gas cooker]. After that, she was happy to let us have the wood,” says Waititu.
When Walala got hold of that wood, he had help carrying it from one of the workers on site. “Every day he now comes to see what I’ve done to the wood. He’s amazed to see what it’s turning into,” says the sculptor who’s wooden ‘work in progress’ is an integral part of the inaugural show.
One other fascinating feature of the new Centre is the set of recycled glass windows created by the previous Tafaria artist-in-residence. Joan Otieno’s windows are beautiful but this woman who specialized in creating junk art found her project nearly daunting.
“I had to dig up the bottles as they had been buried [as a means of disposal]. Then I cut the glass, using thread and fire. After that, I used cement to hold the glass in place,” Joan says.
Her windows are a permanent part of the Centre but the current exhibition will only be up for two months. “I want to give many artists an opportunity to exhibit at the Centre,” says Waititu who also has permanent artworks scattered all around the grounds.
For instance, Maggie Otieno welded a lovely ‘Soul of Tafaria’ sculpture that stands near the front entrance of the Castle. Other works of ‘public art’ situated near the Castle include Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia’s two satiric scrap-metal sculptures, Longinos Nagila’s series of four red-hooded metallic men and Waititu’s own giant fiftini tea cup.
The other arena specifically dedicated to the arts is the Amphitheatre where Waititu announced the first edition of the Tafaria Advocacy Visual Arts Award. It’s an annual award of USD1000 that will go to artwork that best combines art and social advocacy of an issue aligned with Tafaria’s concern for positive social transformation. “We’ll accept submissions next year between August and September. The first winner will be announced on October 20, 2019,” he adds.