Lydia Gatundu Galavu is a sculpture and painter, and the curator for the National Museums of Kenya, where she is helping not only to reposition the museum but also give fresh hope to local artists who have struggled to find popular venues to exhibit their art’. But beyond that, she is looking forward to establishing a museum of contemporary arts, as Kenya has one of the best museums in the world, showcasing traditional, evolutionary art.
“I am the Art Curator for the National Museums of Kenya. My work entails mainly taking care of the art collections for the museum, and also organising exhibitions – temporary exhibitions – and other art activities like workshops, artists talks, and studio visits and generally getting artists involved with the museum, as well as getting artists to assist the museum to take out information to the public on conservation of our heritage. Kenya has one of the best museums in the world, showcasing traditional, evolutionary art. We are looking forward to establishing a museum of contemporary arts.
“What brought me here, in a nutshell, is to try and get as many ideas as I can on how to best display traditional African arts at home in Africa, in our own spaces. To me, the heart of art in Africa is in West Africa.
“Specifically, the National Museums of Kenya is looking towards setting up a permanent gallery of contemporary art; and I wanted to do a study of how best we can be able to display traditional African art at home so that when you look at art in a museum or gallery, you are able to get the feel of the intangible environment that goes with the artwork, so that we are able to display African art differently from the way it displayed, maybe in a museum in the west, where you see an artwork and all you see is the object, and unless you are African, you don’t know the stories that go with it.
“So, now that we have a chance to have a gallery of the history of art in Kenya, I wanted to visit different places, specifically, Lagos, and especially, OYASAF, because I knew about the collection, so that I can be able to interpret and to get ideas on how I will be able to do this.” She described Nigerians as very friendly.
“Nigeria is a very hospitable nation; and everybody wants to say ‘good morning’, and ‘welcome’; and that to me is the first entry into any community, to first feel at home. The weather, I have come at a time when it is cool, as I heard, because it is the rainy season; so maybe I am lucky.
“And then, ‘artwise’, I think I was mesmerised by what I have seen here at OYASAF, the first few days I could not do anything but keep my eyes wide open because being here in OYASAF every art work is better than the other. I have been to the Freedom Park; I have seen what is there. Of course, before I came, I did a bit of my own research, and I had seen the works of some of the artists, like Olumide and others. So, I am impressed.”
She also said that for the arts and culture sector to get the expected support and funding, the practitioners and stakeholders should work hard and be more visible.
“I will say that Lagos is ahead of Nairobi, in terms of art appreciation, in terms of visibility of artists in a global arena, and that is why also, I think it is important for me to be here to also see what I can borrow and add to what we have.
“We don’t have a cultural policy yet in Kenya. We are in the same situation; we are also fighting and trying to do a lot of artists coming together to do some of advocacy to ask the government to allow us discuss, to come up with a policy that can direct us in the culture and the arts. We had several meetings along the way over the years but it is one thing since the 60s that never seems to get ready.
“Even when it comes to the disbursement of funds and allocation of funds to different sectors or different activities, the culture and arts sector is usually the one that gets either the least or nothing at all. So, I can only say, moving forward, we hope that as artists and different organisations in Nairobi, specifically, start talking and doing more work in the arts, we will be able to convince the ministry; like you see what we are doing with athletics, Kenyan athletes are known worldwide.
“It’s not that the government gives a lot of money to sportsmen, but because they are out there and they are winning, government has to look at them. So, now when they need ideas, or when they need policies or when they need funds, they are given. So, that is another approach that we are talking as artists; maybe we need to do our part; be out there, make our name for the country and then now say: ‘Government, we need your attention’.
“But, as Prince has just explained to you, in our museum, which was been refurbished, very huge, and it has modern way of interpreting exhibits, in the galleries that are there. The art space is the biggest in the country, and it is competitive to even art spaces in the West. People come from the West and are amazed by the huge space. So, traditional (pre-history art) we have, a lot of it; we have artefacts, artworks that are 40,000 years old; artworks that are 8,000 years old. And then, we have traditional artworks. In the traditional collection, we have over 60,000 objects, and we are still collecting. So the problem could be what best to choose to put in the gallery.
“The contemporary art is the smallest collection n in the museum; we have about 500 artworks, but to me that is not enough for a museum of our status; and that is the challenge we have. And we do not have enough information for even people to see the contemporary art in Kenya”.