Visual Arts interns create for an eternal purpose
By Zoe Cromwell | Kenya in East Africa
Interns Hezron Rukwaro (far left) and Prince Jones tell the bible story of Joseph to rescued Nairobi street boys who have just helped to paint scenes from Joseph's life. Photo by Tim Coleman.
Hezron of Kenya joined the latest SIM International Arts Residency in Nairobi, and as an artist, it empowered him to continue using his creativity in missions. He says: “I would do it again if I had the chance.”
In June 2019, he, six other Kenyans and seven international artists came together for this internship programme, which focuses on using visual arts in missions.
"Many Christian artists don’t realise that they too can work in mission, that the creative talents God has given them are not just for their own pleasure or livelihood but can be an attractive platform to show others Christ’s love."
Many Christian artists don’t realise that they too can work in mission, that the creative talents God has given them are not just for their own pleasure or livelihood but can be an attractive platform to show others Christ’s love. They can reach at-risk children living in orphanages or rehabilitation centres, or those still in village communities who can’t see a bright future ahead. Or they can minister to young adults without hope, prisoners or people with creative skills for whom art school training is an impossible dream because of the cost.
Residency activities: Learning to minister with art
During the three-week residency, the artists spent their time in a mix of activities — directed and undirected studio time culminating in a group exhibition, presentations in subjects such as using art in trauma healing, how to expand and improve their art practice and listening to others’ artistic journeys.
The artists worked on pieces that showed their individual backgrounds. Naomi used cut fabrics to build up her artwork. Isaac developed his paintings in a sophisticated caricature style. Peter, who was found by our Kenyan leader Beatrice Njoroge in a Nairobi prison, was with us three months after his release, and he showed an amazing talent for drawing. He’s now back in his home village, running art classes for children in the local school.
There were field trips: to Makadara Rehab Centre for street boys caught by police; to a school in Kibera slum called Drug Fighters, where the children of neighbours, some rescued as unwanted babies, learn together in a Christian environment; to a celebration day at Nairobi Museum, where the residency initiated an event that will now be repeated, bringing elderly Kenyans together with children to pass on art and craft skills. The interns also joined a church service in a local prison.
At Makadara the art interns learned, hands-on, one way to create space for talking about God’s love and provision. They prepared pictures from the life of Joseph in Genesis, and then helped the boys to paint these scenes on the wall surrounding their compound. When the murals were done, interns Hezron and Prince led the boys along the wall, explaining the story of Joseph.
Fruitful outcomes of the internship
An aim of the residency is to make the interns aware of other examples from around the world where art is being used on mission, such as opening a Christian art gallery and photography studio (North Africa), running a retreat for pilgrims (South Asia) which focuses on art, teaching art in Christian mission schools and refugee camps in many countries, or opening a studio space offering art tuition (Thailand and Middle East). Possibilities are many and varied, and extend to all the arts — including photography, storytelling and poetry, drama, music, visual arts such as painting, illustration and sculpture, videography and film making, textile crafts, dance, art therapy, and design.
God has led this internship to focus on visual art because there was demand for it. Another reason for this was to partner specifically with SIM Kenya’s Children at Risk Ministry, because this is one of the overwhelming ‘mission fields’ for this part of the world. On the continent as a whole, half the people are 18 or under. So, our activities centre on this demographic. Having international interns as well as local is a plus, because they bring different perspectives and styles of art. Kelvin comments, “It is always great interacting with different artists from other parts of the world.”
Some activities paired internationals and Kenyans. For example, each local artist was paired with one of the internationals at the end to commit to pray for each other for the next year.
Dreama, a Taiwanese-Kiwi intern says: "I felt so humbled and touched by all those Kenyan artists. I enjoyed their laughter and their gathering to do devotions each night. They were very generous to show their skills as well; I saw them help out one another in painting at times, which really impressed me. At the end of the residency, I was really touched by the gift of a painting from one of the local artists.”
Another intern learned from the cross-cultural experience in an interesting way. She says: “God showed me how much my pre-judging people can interfere with loving them. I felt very uncomfortable about having an ex-prisoner in the group. I felt anxious and fearful about this and instantly pre-judged him. Ironically, I was paired with him for the first project. I discovered that he was simply shy and very kind. It made me laugh at myself and realise how much I may miss getting to know someone or love them because of judging them.”
Dreama found that the residency confirmed her calling to share the gospel overseas. She says: "When I was in the Resurrection Garden beside the residence, the verse about the great commission 'Go therefore and make disciples...' spoke to my heart loudly. Then after I came back from the garden, Zoe was asking for volunteers to paint 'the beautiful feet,' [Isaiah 52/Romans 10]; it was like an echo with the calling.
"Seeing the children from Kibera slum, it taught me a lot. Those children are so precious! I absolutely love each experience I had through this residency.”
Create on mission with SIM
Are you ready to develop your artistic skills for the glory of God? Contact us today to start a discussion about introducing creative arts ministries in your part of the world.
• Christians with artistic talents to glorify God and display the gospel.
• SIM Creative Arts ministries to grow.
• future Arts Residency interns to be equipped and encouraged through this internship.
This article first appeared in SIM Creative Arts newsletter "Artsbeat." Check out the Creative Arts page to learn more.