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December 19, 2018

How to look at art: Art and creativity for all

Images from the opening
Images from the opening

On 18 November, the exhibition of the 2017 MASK Prize was officially launched at the leading contemporary art gallery, the Saatchi Gallery, in London. Open until December 31, the show will be seen by up to a hundred thousand people. This is fantastic opportunity to show the world how creative young Africans are. Next year, the MASK Prize will have a five-year retrospective exhibition at the UK leading public gallery Turner Contemporary. 

Patroned by Kenyan’s broadcaster Jeff Koinange, the Head of Modern and Contemporary African Art Hannah O’Leary, and legendary artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, I established the MASK Prize in order to create a platform where all young people in Africa can exercise their creativity and learn from the creativity of others. With the support of the national Kenyan newspaper, The Star, that generously advertises the programme, the MASK Prize has reached more than six thousands participants since 2013. 

The participants are the schoolchildren and college students of IT, bio-chemistry, political science, engineering, architecture, car mechanics, and farming. Some of our alumni go on to launch their music albums like the group of Cr3w Teflon (Timmy Tim, Ben Vic, Bior, and Kavi) or to exhibit like Churchill Ongere and Onesmus Okamar. Others, as they go on in life, will challenge status quo, invent, innovate, and bring change in whatever walks of life they pursue. It is people like that who make the national proud.

Creativity is not art, but it is nurtured by art. It is a type of intelligence that allows us to solve problems, think up any new imaginative ideas and alternatives, understand concepts and apply them in different situations, to plan ahead and achieve goals. 

Art practices are fundamental to creativity-learning. Young people who are denied practicing arts that foster their imagination and advance their visual skills will grow to struggle think independently and to feel empowered, and will have low productivity and self-worth. 

Creative intelligence has become a top skill demanded by employers. Dr. Manu Chandaria said at the MASK Prize Awards: “Survival in the 21st century will be very difficult, and without creativity, it is not possible”. Recently, the Kenyan Government made creativity a ‘core competence’ of its school curriculum.

It is a shame that the British Council refuses to support the MASK Prize. First, the arts were not on their agenda, but when later they came to the realisation of the importance of the arts, they chose to support the ‘professional’ side of it, instead of supporting art for all. 

My latest attempts to persuade them that artists come out of the nurturing environment that had to capture them young, came to nothing again. Focusing on ‘professional’ art, leaves out millions of young people who would have been able to express their creativity not only in the arts, but in science, technology, entrepreneurship, working with people, communities, or even in politics. What about their creativity?

Moreover, focusing on ‘professional’ artists when there are very few artists around runs the danger of promoting poor quality art. Supporting only ‘professionals’ may lead to a misconception that art is a product, commodity, something to buy and sell, defeating the very core purpose of art which is to serve people, their creativity, and advancement. Commercialising art, makes it elitist, aloof, and pushes ordinary good people even further away from the arts. Professional artists should be supported, but only after there are the meaningful art and creativity-education for all.

Exhibition of Churchill Ongere at BIES, Laikipia Road, Kileleshwa, Nairobi, closes on December 1.  Concert of Cr3w Teflon will take place at Michael Joseph Center in Nairobi on 26 January. The 2018 MASK Prize will open for entry on January 8.


Alla Tkachuk is the creativity-education specialist and Founder of the MASK Prize, [email protected]

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