Biggest Slum in Kenya
Known to many as the largest urban slum in all of Africa, Kibera is a community of 250,000 people in Nairobi, Kenya without regular access to clean water or electricity. This slum is rife with disease and the abuse of drugs and alcohol is common. In Kibera, the biggest slum in Kenya, artistic expression and the creation of art is not a priority and seldom is it even an option. The Uweza Art Gallery is changing that.

The Uweza Foundation

Jennifer Sapitro, an American entrepreneur, created the Uweza Foundation in 2008. The foundation funded and opened a community center for the people of Kibera. Sapitro gained inspiration from the artwork at the center and opened the Uweza Art Gallery in 2013. Alongside the art gallery, the foundation provides a variety of programs for Kibera’s youth, such as soccer and a female empowerment program. The goal in establishing the creative hub of the Uweza Art Gallery was to give the youth of Kibera an opportunity to develop their talents, a means of expression through art and access to economic opportunity.

The Uweza Art Gallery

The Uweza Art Gallery provides materials and space for Kibera’s young artists to express themselves and create artwork. The youth are also in charge of marketing their art at the gallery, which is located in an old shipping container, a testimony to the scarcity of proper institutions and resources in Kibera.

The way this gallery works is that 60 percent of the money from a sold item goes back to the artist and the other 40 percent goes to the gallery in order to fund more art supplies and pay the rent. If the artist is under 18 years of age, the gallery allocates the money they make from selling their art for their schooling. If they are over 18, the gallery utilizes the money to pay for whatever the artist may need, such as food or water.

Thanks to the Uweza Art Gallery, many artists over the age of 18 are able to fully support themselves through sales. In addition, this creative space hosts free art classes twice a week for Kibera’s youth. Children as young as five years old go to the art gallery to participate in learning the basic skills of art. As they continue attending the classes, the gallery prompts them to paint their own artwork. Once they become more advanced in their art and they have learned the necessary skills, the gallery encourages them to become a part of the gallery and to continue painting in order to sell. They also take trips outside of the slum to visit museums and art galleries.

This program is significant because not only does it give artists in Kibera a means of expression, but also gives them a chance to be economically self-sufficient. This is so important because it can be the ladder that gives them access to climb out of the dark hole that is poverty. The more successful they are selling their art, the better their chances are at overcoming poverty. The art they make can financially contribute to a better lifestyle.

Another way that the Uweza Art Gallery is beneficial to Kibera is that even though it is based in the biggest slum in Kenya, the art is easily accessible to buyers around the world. Artwork created by people living in slums helps to spread global awareness of the problems these individuals encounter. Living in Kibera presents a lot of adversity, but the Uweza Art Gallery is a creative hub that is a beacon of hope for the people of this slum in Kenya.

– Paula Bouza
Photo: Flickr