Women of Concern Honoree Faith Atieno: 5 Questions with the Artist Behind a Social Change Movement in Kenya

October 20, 2021
Photo by Gordwin Odhiambo

“I want to bring different cultural expressions and a culture of art media by allowing everyone to do what they love and gain skills to open doors to work in the different avenues available for artists.”

Residing in Kibera, Nairobi means living in a 1.5-mile area shared amongst 250,000 people. Though it may be an informal settlement situated on the outskirts of Nairobi, and while it ranks as the “largest slum” in Africa, it is richly populated with creativity. Something Women of Concern Honoree Faith Atieno understands more than most as she empowers those in her community to express themselves through art. 

Muse and honoree for the 2021 ‘Women of Concern presents WORK OF ART’, Faith Atieno, founder of Art 360 Kibera, grew up in Kibera. Self-taught, Faith reflects on not have any art materials or an artist to look up, making it difficult to learn and try to better her painting strokes. These lack of resources and opportunities in her youth inspired her to create Art 360 Kibera, an art gallery located in the heart of Kibera, where Concern works. The gallery features young, independent artists born and raised in Kibera. Where art is a tool for empowerment to address and create a sense of urgency around socio-economic issues that affect our global society.  

In asking Faith 5 questions, she shares how she finds inspiration in her community while inspiring her community to find inspiration in art. 

1. What is your message for the world?  

ART IS OUR CULTURE AND CULTURE IS THE FUTURE

Art allows people from different cultures and different ages to communicate with each other and usually brings the community together in times of happiness or during difficult times. I would also like to encourage female artists everywhere to stay positive and be ready to take a chance to follow their passion despite the challenges many of them face. 

2. How has Art 360 inspired and empowered people in  Kibera?  

CHILDREN AND YOUTH COME TO OUR SMALL RENTED SPACE TO LEARN AND DEVELOP THEIR OWN ARTISTIC SKILLS AND WE DO OUR BEST TO CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THEM

As Art 360 Kibera, we took a step to communicate directly with people by painting over neglected iron sheet walls and using them to communicate different issues, such as the measures to take to combat the pandemic. Many Covid-19 measures such as social distancing, washing of hands, avoiding crowded places, and contact greetings were being ignored due to the high population in the community and general lack of awareness. We felt we were at high risk of mass infections, so we started the conversation with positive results; more people started talking about it. Others started painting walls addressing other issues affecting Kibera to educate and bring about positive growth. We also offer free space to artists undertaking different projects and showcasing different artistic skills. 

Faith Atieno reading the inscription of the Women of Concern Humanitarian Award. (Photo: Gordwin Odhiambo)

3. How has Art 360 helped you to grow personally?

AS SOMEONE WHO WAS BORN AND RAISED IN KIBERA I FEEL IT WAS NECESSARY FOR ME TO DO THIS AS I NEVER HAD ANY OPPORTUNITIES OFFERED TO ME GROWING UP

Art 360 Kibera is the culmination of a dream I’ve always had: free space to work on my pieces with other talented artists and the fulfillment of a desire to mentor and be close to people – especially young women – who have a passion for art. I learn new processes and approaches to tackle our community problems from them, and they also learn from me as we grow different techniques. Kibera slum is a school of hard knocks; we encourage each other to be resilient and exchange ideas on how we can fill the gap for the betterment of our community. It doesn’t end here, though. It is a struggle, a huge one indeed, and there is still a long road ahead.

Women of Concern Humanitarian Award for Faith Atieno’s Art 360 Kibera. (Photo: Gordwin Odhiambo)

4. What kind of change/growth do you see in the children you mentor as they learn to explore the creative outlet of art?

THE NUMBER OF GIRLS TAKING THE STEP TO LEARN AND GROW AS ARTISTS

Female representation is very important in artistic spaces. In the future, they will inspire more girls and women to do the same and make a living out of a mostly male-dominated industry. Children in Kibera are creative and ready to work on what they love, but most don’t have this chance since they are not exposed to an artistic environment. We have seen what they are capable of, and their growth motivates us always to try to be good in our pieces and help them with basics to improve and maintain their focus in art.

Faith Atieno, in the doorway of Art 360 Kibera, featuring young, independent artists born and raised in Kibera. (Photo: Gordwin Odhiambo)

5. What is your ultimate dream for the people of Kibera? 

TO ALLOW KIDS AND THE YOUTH TO USE THEIR SKILLS TO TRANSFORM LIVES IN KIBERA

I dream of creating a hub to nurture different artistic abilities like painting, sculpting, weaving, digital art, graffiti, murals, and a fashion art library. I would also want to put up a showroom for different artists to showcase their talents and allow kids and youth to use their skills to transform lives in Kibera and the world. I feel like this will have a great impact since there are very few institutions offering such opportunities, and our community really needs such initiatives to promote growth and development in people’s lives. This personal growth will help reduce poverty as the artists reinvest in the community, in terms of skills and resources.  

The ‘Women of Concern presents WORK OF ART’ is a first-of-its-kind virtual art exposition that showcases the powerful ways in which creativity and humanitarian work collide. Each of the six interactive exhibits on Expression, Change, Influence, Communication, Engagement, and Ways Out explores concepts from art for social change to folklore and hairstyling, bringing to life the influential role art plays in uplifting the voices of women and girls and ending the cycle of extreme poverty.