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The East African : Feb 23rd 2015
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 21-27,2015 VII painte≥s indulge at the Lamu festival ‘‘ The first thing that strikes one about the festival, apart from the dazzling day light, sparkling skies, cool oceanic breezes and warmth of the Lamu people, is the generosity of Menzer which seems almost otherworldly.” where the artists not only watched exciting dhow races; but also came to sit or stand where the shoreline meets the sea and paint all that they saw. The race is considered one of the most colourful communal events of the year in Lamu so it was a marvel mixing with the local population on the beach as well as with the expatriate elites who sat up on Peponi’s veranda sipping margaritas and rooting for the dhow of their choice. The day might have ended on a sad note since a number of the painters were departing the island the following day, but then when Lamu’s County governor Mr Timamy showed up specifically to meet the artists, it became a joyful occasion. The governor seemed genuinely e invited two Kenyan s: Kassam came not ut also to help Menzer olourful catalogue feaartists, including their very best works that during the festival. he other hand came nt. The 22-year-old nt of Patrick Mukabi h all the other plein imarily because in her isn’t a novice. Having nt when she was just head of an the award- ense, both Nadia and better off than some opeans who arrived in ng never been in Africa who were bowled over cipated beauty, variety f light, colour and peon the island. , there weren’t many is year apart from the mut Brier Kenya-based Sophie Walbeoffe, Sveand Meike Lipp since tended at least one of estivals organised by Mr Menzer’s fellow urgen Leippert (fondly Duke of Shela), phoand Klemp and sculpSauter, had attended all three festivals. So had Natalia Dik who is originally from Russia but now splits her time between St. Petersburg (Russia) and Amsterdam (Holland). Other Dutch artists who have consistently come to paint at Shela include Piet Groenendijk, Dorien van Diemen and Diederik Vermeulen. Only Karin Voogd and Sibylle Bross came to the first festival but couldn’t make it back until this year. The first thing that strikes one about the festival, apart from the dazzling daylight, sparkling skies, cool oceanic breezes and warmth of the Lamu people, is the generosity of Menzer, which seems almost otherworldly. The concept of a painters festival is not his own. In fact, one sees such festivals most frequently in the Netherlands during the summer months. That partially explains why so many Dutch and German artists attend his festivals. It’s also partially because he attended one painters festival at Noordwijk in Holland and there he met a number of artists who’ve been coming to Lamu since his festivals got underway. What makes his Lamu Painters Festival so unique is the island itself. It’s also because Mr Menzer has close ties with the local people who have helped him find a multitude of picturesque places for artists to go and paint. Be it Makongoni on Lamu Island, Maweni on Manda or the historic ruins of Pate Island that date back centuries when the sultans ruled the region as city states, every day was an adventure for the artists, most of whom were not oblivious to the discrepancy between their painterly privilege and the poverty of places like Makongoni. But Mr Menzer also helped them understand that tourism is an important income-generator on the island, and as that sector has been so badly hit in recent months, their presence can be seen as positive since they’re Sophie Walbeoffe working on her oil painting at the Lamu Painters Festival in Shela; Below right: The exhibition at Baitil Aman Hotel. Herbert Menzer, the festival organiser. Picture: Magaretta wa Gacheru. not only injecting revenue into the local economy, they are also proving by their example that Lamu is peaceful, safe and secure. Indeed, it’s the closest place to paradise or “peponi” in Kiswahili. One place that the artists spent many an evening after a long day of painting was the Peponi Hotel, world renowned for its privacy, elegance and blissful beauty. The artists also spent one whole day painting in Peponi’s gloriously green gardens or inside the hotel itself. And on the final day of the festival, the hotel also served as the strategic vantage point glad to meet the painters and hear more about the festival. In fact, during a press conference following his attending their exhibition at Baitil Aman, he said he was now keen on re-branding Lamu Island as the Festival Capital of East Africa. He noted that that, “In January, the island had held the Maulid Festival; and now in February we had the Painters Festival; in March there will be a Swahili Food Festival and in April there will be an international Yoga Festival.” On that promising note, a few painters remained in Shela for a few days more, having found it difficult to tear themselves away from the paradise they had found, thanks to Mr Menzer. The rest were graciously taken by Mr Menzer’s boatman on his dhow, the Lady Gaga, to the airport where some of them flew to Nairobi, while others had to go fly back to a cold European winter. And if one wonders what sort of “pay back” Mr Menzer receives from the festival, apart from the joy of sharing heaven on earth with kindred spirits like those who came this year, one need not remain perplexed. “He chooses one painting from every artist,” said Sibylle Bross who stayed a few more days in Shela before going flying back to Stuttgart, Germany. “It’s a small price to pay for such an unforgettable experience,” she added, vowing to come back in two years’ time, if not sooner.
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