Talented Refugees in Kenya Showcase their Artwork at an Exhibition in Nairobi

Over 50 refugee artists, mainly from the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, exhibited their artwork, as well as cultural expression through music, at an exhibition held at the Alliance Française in Nairobi, from 4th to 6th November 2015.

Director-General of the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) Madame Sahle-Work Zewde admiring some of the work by refugee artists Pic/UNHCR

Over 50 refugee artists, mainly from the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, exhibited their artwork, as well as cultural expression through music, at an exhibition held at the Alliance Française in Nairobi, from 4th to 6th November 2015. The exhibition was organized by UNHCR, with the support of FilmAid International. It marked the launch of the Artists for Refugees Project, a UNHCR mentorship and livelihood initiative for refugees in Kenya.

During the exhibition, intricately handcrafted sculptures and paintings were displayed in the open gallery. Cultural dance groups from the Kakuma refugee camp performed exciting Somali, Sudanese and Burundian dances.

The launch ceremony, held on 4th November 2015, was attended by officials from the Government of Kenya, members of the diplomatic corps, UN agencies, NGOs, local artists and members of the general public. A panel discussion themed “Empowerment of Refugees through Art” facilitated discussions regarding the talent found amongst refugees, the situation of refugees in general and the therapeutic value of art, as well as art as a source of livelihood. Guests who spoke during the ceremony expressed their support for the project, appreciating both the therapeutic value of art and livelihoods potential for the talented refugees.

Bahimba, a talented sculptor from Rwanda, whose amazing sculptures were very well received by guests, explained that his artistic talent is both a source of livelihood and his way of furthering his community’s expression of love. “As Rwandans, we give out such carvings to friends and family as a sign of love.”

Mahlet Ekubey, an Ethiopian student studying International Relations at the University of Nairobi has plans to become a humanitarian worker. Her artwork, which was displayed during the exhibition incorporates her vision, depicting refugee situations and humanitarian relief efforts.

Asende, one of the Burundian Talking Drummers, during the launch Pic/UNHCR

Many talented refugees have expressed the desire to pursue their art. However, many of them, particularly those living in camps, do not often find opportunities to showcase their art and hone their talents. The Artists for Refugees project, as a livelihoods and empowerment initiative, provides a platform for these refugees, encouraging them to explore their talents and build their confidence under the mentorship and training of established local artists.

The project is also founded on the importance of art in human expression. It is known to provide benefits such as promotion of self-esteem, motivation, cultural exposure, creativity, improved emotional expression, social harmony and appreciation of diversity.

Artists who have worked with UNHCR on this project include Henry Ohanga (“Octopizzo”), a leading Kenyan hip-hop artist, and Victor Ndula, a renowned illustrator and editorial cartoonist. The two artists continue to play an important role in inspiring, motivating and empowering the refugees through their mentorship.

The exhibition will be held annually, with the intention of tapping into as many talents as possible, giving the refugees an opportunity to showcase their talent and explore livelihood opportunities, while also presenting an opportunity to explain the plight of refugees to the general public.