Anderson University exhibition features African street art

Thu, 2009-12-10 14:20 -- univcomm
December 10, 2009

As street artists in Tanzania, a trio of men from the city of Mwanza use distinct child-like styles to find common, and ominous, themes.

The artists, going by singular names — Maziku, Said and Jonathan — are basically self-taught and reflect an every day life of poverty, drugs and despair.

knappSome find dry humor in the streets; others paint shocking portrayals of lives far removed from the United States. [Photo on left: Missionary Lorien Knapp, left, and her father, Jason, who is an Anderson University art professor, stand beside art pieces they brought back from Mwanza, Tanzania. The paintings depict street scenes and are on exhibit at Wilson Galleries at Anderson University.]

Their works are on exhibit through Dec. 15 at Wilson Galleries on the Anderson University campus.

The art was brought to Anderson by Lorien Knapp, an Anderson High School grad and current missionary to Mwanza, and her father, Jason Knapp, art professor at Anderson University. The two collaborated in bringing project to Anderson University after a visit earlier this year to the impoverished country.

Mwanza, an agriculture-based area located on Lake Victoria, is Tanzania’s second largest city at about 500,000 residents.

For Jason Knapp, the works are reflections of a government that has no courses of action to address the poverty, a government “ignorant of street life,” Knapp told a first-night reception audience.

Knapp goes so far as to call the works “war pictures.”

Lorien Knapp told the gathering that the artworks, depicting mostly scenes of bored and tragic children, give voice to disenfranchised youth.

“If one thing comes out, the story is being told of children who aren’t being heard in other ways,” she said. [Photo on right: Tanzanian artist Maziku's "Caught in the Act ... 2009," on display at Anderson University's Wilson Galleries. "The nightime is one of the most frightening times for children because they may be snatched in their sleep by police who want to lock them in prison. If they are not arrested they may be beaten harshly because society dislikes the presence of children in the streets."]

Artist Said, a Burundi native, left that land’s unrest only to find violence in Mwanza in the early 1990s. His art focuses on the individual; his street characters — gambling on a corner or being hassled by police — are surrounded by bright backgrounds. His buildings are usually just outlines in the distance.

Jonathan, as a street artist, came to the attention of a documentary filmmaker and appeared in “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a 2004 Academy-nominated film.

His work has a wry sense of humor, as in “Give Thanks for Daily Bread,” depicting street urchins receiving food handouts from a Good Samaritan who doesn’t leave the comforts of his Land Cruiser. The donor vaguely resembles Jesus.

Maziku, who grew up knowing Jonathan, specializes in banana leaf collages, a greeting card style made for tourists. His works are more shocking; a child vomits while others smoke dope and play dangerously in “Street Culture 2008.” In “Watch Your Pocket!,” Maziku captures a young pickpocket pilfering a wallet from a faceless man. Other children play nearby, as if the theft is commonplace.

The artists’ works are also available for purchase, ranging from about $100 to $150 each.

If you go

What: “Watoto Wa Kitaa, Children of the Street.” Works by three African artists are featured in an exhibition sponsored by the Peace and Conflict Transformation (PACT) program at Anderson University.

When: Through Dec. 15

Where: Wilson Galleries, Anderson University, 1100 E. Fifth St.

Admission: Free

—Scott L. Miley is the Associate Features Editor for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.