Special Guest Blog from Nairobi, Kenya: As part of our ongoing efforts to build more connections among SWAN organizers worldwide, WomenArts arranged for U.S. author/activist Deborah Santana to meet with the SWAN Day Kenya organizers in Nairobi. We are delighted to post her special guest blog.
My friend, Vee and I walked onto the grounds of the National Theatre of Kenya to meet Sophie Dowllar and some of the women artists who are part of SWAN Day Kenya. In the café, Sophie stood, baby in arms, shining like the sun, welcoming us to a gathering of poets, actors, visual artists, musicians, sculptors, and film and television producers. Fourteen women and two men sat together around a table, and we sipped sweet chai, discussing the arts in Kenya, and the lack of opportunities for women artists.
I was introduced to SWAN Day Kenya one year ago and it seemed like a gift from the universe to be with these women whose creativity spans so many genres and whose powerful voices speak with truth and joy.
Sophie Dowllar organized the first SWAN Day Kenya event in 2008, and the community that evolved from that initial event has grown to address the issues of women as artists, as well as to infuse the participants with adrenalin to continue their work.
Iddi Achieng, an international musical talent is also a sociologist and poet with the Iddi Achieng Trust that supports twenty schools and 3000 students. Lillian Otieno’s organization performs traditional dances and we had the honor of watching an interpretive dance with her, Rebecca and Monica.
Jane Amiri is a storywriter and storyteller, and as a student of sociology, teaches gender issues in seminars and workshops. She said, “Society is the stories we tell.”
Tabitha Wa Thuku is a visual artist who has spent over 25 years producing and teaching art, with her works hanging in the Kenyan National Museum’s permanent collection. Edith Luseno works in television to promote artists and inform people about the beautiful creations of Kenyan women.
Lydiah Dola, women’s rights activist, guitarist and singer, introduced us to her guitar and then serenaded us with her magical music. She uses her voice for power and change.
These women are activists, mothers, sisters, and givers of themselves so that the blessings of their souls, through their art, can right the imbalance of the world. They send images and music into the universe of yearning.
The women introduced the theatre manager, Ken, who said that “Kenya is the incubator of great minds,” and Tony Mboyo of Theatre for Social Transformation, a puppeteer and dancer whose big heart works behind the scenes at SWAN Kenya.
Pulled into a circle of swaying hips and moving feet, Vee and I celebrated these artists as we twisted to drumbeats and guitar chords, smiling from ear to ear, part of the mobilization of painters, writers, poets, singers, acrobats, dancers, sculptors, fashion artists, and every molecule of creativity. Although they spoke about the challenges of selling their art, and trying to earn livings through artistic efforts – issues that exist here in America as well – the vibrancy of the women’s minds and voices healed me and filled me with dreams for working together as I enjoyed my last day in Kenya.
About Deborah Santana: Deborah Santana is an author, philanthropist, activist for peace and social justice, and founder of Do A Little, a non-profit that serves women and girls in the areas of health, education and happiness. Her memoir, Space Between The Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart, was published in 2005. She has produced two documentary films with Emmy-award winning director Barbara Rick about the collaborative work of non-profit partners in South Africa and Kenya. She serves as a Board member for ANSA (Artists for a New South Africa), mentors girls and young women, and is a supporter of Marian Wright Edelman’s Freedom Schools in New Orleans.