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Young scholars using artwork to speak

Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa painting is perhaps one of thee most famous and recognizable pieces of art to date.

Painted between 1503 and 1519, it was owned by French royalty for centuries.

Liberated later by French Revolutionary forces, the painting briefly adorned Napoleon’s bedroom before it was finally installed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.

Member of the Dedan Kimathi Art Club;Victor Mwendwa, Joash Eshipwaka,Jeff Mwangi, Rehema Rizpah, Kennedy Munyui, George Ragui and Githaiga Njambi pose with some of their art pieces. Photo by Wangari Mwangi

Today close to 80 per cent of Louvre visitors come specifically to see Mona Lisa.

Surprisingly those visiting the museum are only allowed 30 seconds to admire the painting’s legendary mystique.

In 1962, Mona Lisabecame a Guinness World Record holder for the highest known painting valued at a whooping $100 million, which is at least $870 million by today’s estimates.

And given the fact that the masterpiece is deemed irreplaceable, it will probably become priceless for many more years to come.

Rehema Rizpa is in her fourth-year at the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

She is most probably unaware of Davinci’s captivating painting that has remained an artistic marvel for more than 500 years.

Yet her love for art is nevertheless fascinating especially for someone who is pursuing a course completely divorced from fine art.

The soft-spoken student who doubles as Vice Chair for the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology Art Club (DKUAC), believes passion for creative art was running deep in her veins years before she became of age.

“I used to sketch illustrations of boys and girls way back during my primary school days but unfortunately my father would never hear any of it and insisted that my responsibility was to excel in class before thinking of other things,” she told KNA when we visited the institution.

“However, I never gave up my dream of putting my work on canvas someday and therefore continued with my exploration even after joining secondary school. When I finally joined campus, I heaved a sigh of relief since I could now take my talent to a higher level without much hindrance,” she continues.

It was here that she joined DKUAC that brings together about 20 students who have sworn to employ drawings and paintings in speaking out to the world.

Currently her most famous piece of work includes a drawing of Mnyazi wa Menza (Mekatilili Wa Menza) who led the Giriama people against the colonial administration between 1912 and 1915.

She has also done another piece of work depicting Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua which she managed to sell.

“All my best works are currently sold but I have some like for Mekatilili wa Menza. I have also sold one portrait of Martha Karua whom I admire for her boldness in speaking out her mind,” says Rehema while revealing that her decision to showcase women leaders is to challenge and empower women to take an active role in matters affecting them in society.

Andrew Victor Mwendwa who is the group leader says despite the challenges facing the nascent club which is barely five months since its launch, members are united in their quest to popularize the spirit of fine creative art in the institution despite the fact that the university does not offer such courses.

Mwendwa who is pursuing a course in Geomatics and Geospatial Systems also says their vision is to market the works of the team not only within the premises of the college but beyond the country, some day.

“This club began three years ago when we met and thought we could bring artists together and work as a community since it would be cheaper and easy to reach a larger audience. Then four months ago we decided to launch the club officially,” he says.

To come up with a complete painting or drawing is to say the least a painstaking undertaking.

For one all the members have to foot the costs of purchasing all the items needed for coming up with an individual’s preferred piece of work.

Since fine art is dearly costly, members have to forgo a few luxuries here and there in order to save a few coins to cater for such expenses.

Secondly since much of the time finds the members in class or doing assignments, much of the work must therefore be done during spare time, which in most cases is hard to come by.

In some circumstances individuals have to work late into the night to avoid jeopardizing their studies.

“This is a club that requires a lot of commitment considering that nobody here undertakes art as an academic discipline since Dedan Kimathi University of Technology does not offer art as a course,” he said.

Normally the students hold their meetings every Monday from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm where they share their challenges and also showcase some of their products.

It is also during such meetings that they deliberate on the best ways to publicize their works and resolve challenges that are never too far off for any undergraduate student.

This far, the group is happy since they have managed to sell several pieces of their work and also managed to showcase their products at various exhibition events including this year’s Mashujaa Day celebrations held at the Nyeri DEB Muslim Primary School.

While the cost of a piece of art is quite high, the club says most of their works are customer friendly with the most expensive going for around Sh 10,000 for an A0 life size painting while the cheapest, an A4 size portrait or picture sells for Sh 2,500.

The prices are determined by the time taken to create it, material used and their cost with most of the works being either from pencil, coffee, colour pencil or string and lighting.

Eshipwaka Joash who is the club’s organizing secretary believes they are on the right trajectory despite the teething problems that have been compounded by lack of funds and publicity though he says the latter is being addressed through the employment of digital marketing platforms such as Instagram that have a wider reach.

Joash, who is pursuing a course in Industrial Chemistry says his main task now is to expand their market base through soliciting for avenues and linkages that can open new markets for their hard work.

“My work as an organizing secretary is to plan for events for the club and look for events and opportunities where they can showcase their work as a club. The club is growing and we have achieved a lot. We are always trying to grow together and help each other whenever a new challenge arises,” said the official whose best exhibition include that of Mau Mau war veteran General Marshall Dedan Kimathi and his wife Mukami Kimathi.

“Our major challenge is finding people who can appreciate your work. Most people out there do not give art the value it deserves and so for you to get a person who can value your work is a real challenge,” he stresses.

The members are also grateful to the university administration for supporting their efforts through giving them a platform on which they can promote their God-given talents and passion.

Besides having the club registered within the college, the administration has assigned a patron for the club to help them in working towards fulfilling their intimate dreams; through the canvas.

By Samuel Maina and Wangari Mwangi

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