Artists for Refugees Project

In an effort to address and change this public perception, and in continued advocacy on behalf of the refugees, who are by and large law-abiding and may also contribute positively towards the well-being of the country, particularly in matters related to the economy, UNHCR Kenya initiated the ‘Artists for Refugees’ project in 2015, with the support of two renowned Kenyan artists: Henry Ohanga (popularly known as Octopizzo), a leading rap musician and Victor Ndula, a celebrated illustrator and cartoonist with ‘The Star’ Newspaper. The artists came on board to mentor refugee artists, mainly the youth, in art, music and sports. UNHCR Kenya partner, Film Aid International (FAI), implemented the pilot project in Kakuma camp.

Objectives of the project

1. To provide a platform on which talented refugees can discover, explore, hone and display their talents

2. To provide mentorship to these refugees, including life coaching and training in entrepreneurship skills, so that they can possibly earn a living through art.

3. To use art as a form of therapy.

4. To use the strong voices of the Kenyan artists to disseminate a positive refugee narrative.

Achievements in 2015

In the course of 2015, the two artists held four training workshops in Kakuma. 150 musical artists and 20 visual artists were trained/mentored during this workshops. A group of these artists showcased their skills during the 2015 commemoration of World Refugee Day in Kakuma. The visual artists exhibited their work while the musical artists performed a medley of cultural dances and hip hop performances. In August of the same year, eight refugee artists were selected to curtain raise for Octopizzo during his album launch that was held in Nairobi. On both occasions, the artists were very well received and the project was applauded by the public, members of the diplomatic corps, international and national humanitarian organizations and UN agencies.

In November 2015, the pilot project culminated in an exhibition held in Nairobi, which provided a platform for refuges to showcase their talent in art and music. The showcase was very well received by the public and is scheduled to be an annual event in the UNHCR Kenya calendar.

Achievements in 2016

In 2016, UNHCR Kenya continued with the project in Kakuma and replicated it in Dadaab camps and urban programme in Nairobi in order to broaden the reach and increase the number of refugees that can benefit from the project.

The two lead artists (Henry Ohanga and Victor Ndula) worked with other musicians and visual artists to enrich and diversify the skill sets of the talented refugees identified through the project.

The lead artists also worked with UNHCR and our livelihoods implementing partner, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), to identify refugee artists who can be assisted to take their craft forward and produce quality music in the local studios (for the musicians) and exhibit their work in local art galleries (for the visual artists), towards commercial gain. Online platforms such as YouTube and iMarkets were explored as potential areas for increased visibility and marketing of the music and art.

Nine (9) visual artists were trained by renowned Kenyan artists in April 2016 in partnership with Alliance Française (French Cultural Centre) in Nairobi, as part of the critical conversations on ‘migrants and refugees project’. Their work was showcased at Alliance Française and Goethe Institute (German Cultural Centre). In addition, six (6) refugees from Nairobi and Kakuma also performed alongside Octopizzo and his band at a music concert dabbed ‘Refugeenius’ at Alliance Française.

At the end of 2016, refugee artists who had been trained an mentored by Octopizzo released the first ever refugee album in Kenya dubbed ‘Refugeenius’. In addition to the music album, 10 videos off the ‘Refugeenius’ album were released.

Watch all the videos below.