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Anne Mwiti: The power of understatement

Kenyan artist Anne Mwiti won the prestigious international Citizen Artists Award in 2014 for a painting that is as understated as it is powerful.

Don’t let her diminutive size and delicate demeanor deceive you – Anne Mwiti is no ordinary doctoral candidate in Fine Art at Kenyatta University. She is an award-winning Kenyan artist who has exhibited her work both locally and internationally. On one occasion she even shared gallery space with no less an eminent person than the late, great South African Nelson Mandela, who had occupied a fair amount of time learning to paint while incarcerated on Robben Island. He went on to produce a substantial collection of work which the Belgravia Gallery in London managed to obtain and include in their World Citizen Artists Awards 2014 exhibition.

She even shared gallery space with the late, great Nelson Mandela

Anne Mwiti was also in that exhibition, but she got there by a different route: She had first taken part in the Awards Competition, as did hundreds of artists from across the globe. She was one of the top 15 finalists selected to feature in the prestigious global art show.

Another difference is that she was the only African (and one of the few women) to be in the top 15. Mostimportant of all, Anne earned First Prize for her highly symbolic abstract painting depicting her perspective on war and peace, including the deep-seated feelings stemming from her personal experience of Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence.

Anne's newest style 'Mother &Child'
Anne’s newest style ‘Mother &Child’

A personal take on war and peace

With its multiple layers of white and black acrylic paint, Anne’s painting appears deceptively simple. The upper half is white, symbolising peace, justice and hope, while the lower half is jet black, symbolising the antithetical themes of death, destruction and war.

She includes two more colored lines in her painting,where the black and white panels converge. One line is red, symbolic of the bloodshed in times of war generally and during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence specifically. The other line is green, signifying the fertility, lush abundance and prosperity that becomes possible when there’s peace and reconciliation between former adversaries.

The key to the painting’s meaning is first in the title, A Stitch in Time, and then in the threaded needle that wasused to cross-stitch along the dividing line between the antithetical colours but has been left dangling half-way through.

 

Anne Mwiti in London with her trophy and winning painting
Anne Mwiti in London with her trophy and winning painting

Anne explains that her painting has an interactive element to it: peacemakers are meant to pick up the needle and complete the cross-stitching

A call to take up the needle

Anne explains that her painting (which she’s now selling for Sh1 million from her Karen Village studio) has an interactive element to it: The peacemakers are meant to pick up the needle and complete the cross-stitching.

’It’s meant to signify that the reconciliation process [on both a global and a local level] has yet to be completed, but there is a way forward if people will only continue working to make it happen.’

Anne went to London to receive her award in late 2014, after which she returned to Kenyatta University where she has been teaching, mentoring, mounting art exhibitions and mothering her two children ever since. She’s married to man who, she says, is extremely supportive of her work and the hours only a workaholic can keep.

Anne admits that she could accurately be called a workaholic, but then again she has been a high-energy activist all her life, ever since the age of five, when her father, the head teacher at Rwanderi Primary School in rural Meru County, first put a pencil in her hand and got her drawing and painting.

Her father also taught her mathematics and English, but since he was an artist in his spare time, he would sit with his first born child for hours, prodding her to paint and advising her on how to enhance her drawing..

ANNE'S teaching children art, imbibing their style. Title My family
ANNE’S teaching children art, imbibing their style. Title My family

 

Anne’s rural roots

Anne loved the rural life and took part in all the domestic chores that other little girls had to do, like fetching firewood and water from the river. The only difference between them and her was that the land on which they played belonged to her family, so she didn’t really have to work that hard. ‘But it was so much fun – we all saw it not as hard work but as play,’ she said.

Anne learned to stitch, crochet and knit from her mother,. ’I used to make my own dolls out of maize husks and then stitch clothes for them.’ That early experience is partly what inspired her prize-winning painting.

As much as her imaginative upbringing prepared her to become both an artist and mentor, Anne is curious about what changes make children lose their early spontaneity and inhibit their imagination as they grow older. This is the topic that she is currently researching for her doctorate, and it saw herspending the last six months teaching art to children in Kibera slum. Little did her young students know of the giant stature of their diminutive art teacher…

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