Finding the Inspiration to Write in Visual Arts

Florence Njoki & Ruth Nyambura at the Alliance Française January 23, 2018

Every writer knows just how important inspiration is as the force you rely on to produce that brilliant story. Sometimes it comes to you naturally, but other times it can be quite elusive till you are stuck.

For most of my writing, especially the short stories and poetry, I derive inspiration from random sources; from personal experiences, the experiences of others, favourite authors, music and the natural world, to the chaos of the city, and boring lectures or conferences, the sources of inspiration are varied for every writer. However, there comes a time when you have to expand your horizons when the usual sources fall short.

I love going for art exhibitions, for both entertainment and inspiration. There is something about the visual imagery, especially paintings, which moves the spirit and rouses the mind. The images affect our moods and ignite specific emotions and ideas which can translate into the writing process.

The  East Africa Art Biennale on Safari

My sister and I attended an art exhibition at the Alliance Française in Nairobi on 23rd January this year, my first exhibition of the year, which was not only a delightful evening but also an event full of inspiration for writing ideas. Under the theme of ‘Moving Art across East Africa Borders’ the 2017 East Africa Art Biennale on Safari, which was launched in November 2017 in Dar es Salaam, was presented for the first time in Nairobi this year. It is an exhibition which brought together a multitude of upcoming and established artists from the East Africa region to ensure there was a diverse collection on display.

With just a handful of attendants, there was a charming setting which allowed the artworks to really stand out. From the ground to the first floor there were numerous pieces, mainly by Tanzanian artists, which stood out for the African touch, themes, textures, vibrant colours and the innovative use of materials such as ‘kitenges’.

There was a short performance of a Luhya traditional dance before formal introductions of the event organizers, sponsors and participating artists in attendance. From there we pretty much moved freely from one painting to the other. Though there were few photographs and sketches, paintings were the dominant art on display.

I was particularly impressed with the representation of diverse issues in the region which included nature, starvation, electoral violence, rural life, hard work, African consciousness, the persistence of traditional culture in the present age, and the Mau Mau struggle and oath taking. The focus on Africans, our emotions regarding events that affect us and the way we express ourselves was refreshing. It was an enlightening, sentimental and overall beautiful set-up.

There are three paintings which stood out for me as I simply had an immediate reaction to them. Beyond their visual appeal, I found myself thinking of topics I could write about based on what I had seen.

Victor Binge (Kenya) – Focus. Acrylic on Canvas

I was completely immersed in the colours on Victor Binge’s ‘Focus’. With a blend of flamboyant warm colours, it portrays a person rowing against the backdrop of a tumultuous environment. The shades of red and orange around the lone individual suggest self-confidence and fearlessness. It makes me think of the desire to accomplish something irrespective of any discouraging opinions.

Similarly, I was drawn to the painting below by Gasto Kihundwa due to the colour experience. I just got excited by the bright rainbow colours. Representing an exciting union, it is a different take from the earthy colours which are common in wildlife paintings here.

Gasto Kihundwa (Tanzania) – Couple. Acrylic on Canvas

The third painting is the stunning work by Masoud Kibwana pictured below. It immediately caught my eye for its shocking appearance. The disturbing imagery here points to silencing of an individual after some form of iniquity or injustice befalls them. The image calls to mind the culture of silencing victims of sexual violence and abuse, especially children, which is common within African culture.

Masoud Kibwana (Tanzania) – Silent. Acrylic on Canvas

Immersing myself in this world of visual arts was a really inspiring experience as it not only reflected the pains that plague us but also African resilience. The East Africa Art Biennale Association (EASTAFAB) fittingly curated the exhibition to reflect the African struggle and spirit.

Going to art exhibitions can stimulate creativity and inspire new ideas to advance your writing process. Whether it is the colours, the contours, the flare, the subliminal messages, or the symbolism, you will find some writing inspiration in these artistic works.

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