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Zanzibar's Artists Reaching Out to the Mentally Sick

In Zanzibar people are afraid to even pass near the gates of the mental hospital and patients here are treated like animals.

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Despite the luscious images and stories about Zanzibar's past and present, life on the isles can be hard. Although the tourism industry is doing fairly well with a good number of tourists being pampered and warmly welcomed by the local population there are still limited opportunities for employment for Zanzibaris in this sector and elsewhere.

source: The East African (Nairobi) http://www.nationaudio.com/News/EastAfrican/current/Features/Magazine260120041.html

reports LYDIA MARTIN January 26, 2004 

Many young people, including those with skills and education face an uncertain future here.

However, as in any society around the world, the local artists are one group in Zanzibar who stand out fighting harder to survive than others.

The tourism industry is the major consumer of their art and for many artists producing work that does not illustrate "typical" Zanzibari life, or does not follow the style of "African" art, making ends meet through art can be almost impossible.

Shops in Stone Town are crammed with paintings and carvings of women carrying water, pounding maize, Maasai figures, or the very popular Tinga Tinga style paintings. This is the art that can sell at competitive prices.

Amir Hamza, a local artist explains: "To live as an artist here is very hard; we're just surviving. The sale of our work depends on the style of work we produce and not the quality."

Hamza explains how you can divide the work produced by artists in Zanzibar into "tourist art" and "real art."

"Many tourists are not interested in buying 'real art' for a number of reasons," Amir says. "Many of them do not have the knowledge or interest in art from Zanzibar while many just do not have the money to buy 'real art'."

He explains how the local artists have realised this and now produce work that can be bought for less using cheaper materials.

They have even tried styles and techniques that seem popular with visitors. As for the local market, Hamza explains, "a lot of people in Zanzibar love art and have a lot of respect for artists. The problem is that they can't afford it."

Inevitably, art standards drop as the same images and techniques are reproduced many times with little artistic expression involved. As Hamza explains; "It takes a lot of time to work creatively - it's a fulltime job. Art has to come straight from your heart."

When they weigh between making enough money to support their families against creativity - producing work that may not be easy to sell - many artists choose the commercial option. It is this situation that is turning a vibrant Zanzibari art culture into a distant dream for all but a minority of individuals who are proud to call themselves artists in the true sense of the word.

All is not lost because this group of artists have seen the situation as a deterioration in the culture of art.
 

And rather than throwing their hands up and abandoning their creativity ambitions, they have taken on the challenge to preserve and foster a dynamic artistic culture in Zanzibar.

At the end of 1999 a group of 20 young artists got together to form an NGO - the Zanzibar Young Artists Association (ZAYAA).

The aims of this organisation was to mobilise young artists towards the development and preservation of the culture and history of Zanzibar. Although these broad aims encompass many issues it was felt that there was a need to establish an organisation to provide knowledge and education on art to the youth and the community as a whole.

Hamza, who is the chairman of ZAYAA says, "ZAYAA's members are artists but we are, more importantly, part of our community. So we know the problems in our society.

"That is why the organisation promotes art as a means of employment, and as members we are committed to our role as teachers."

In working to develop artists from the community the NGO is looking for ways to promote the art and culture of the Isles as a viable means of employment as well as a means of artistic expression.

In 2002, ZAYAA created a community project working to support one group often neglected in society - individuals with mental health problems. The project would involve members of ZAYAA using their own learning, experience and skill to teach art classes to the patients at the local mental health hospital just outside Stone Town.

Hamza explains; "We asked ourselves the question, 'What are we doing for our society?'. We know we have to play a part in our society - not just to make money and become big artists."

ZAYAA approached the staff of the mental hospital who saw the benefit of such a project and were keen to support the project.

ZAYAA felt a need to offer an important service to the patients who are often ostracised by the own families and communities because of their condition, have to deal with a spiralling of mental health problems, loneliness and a lack of skills that would encourage them to live positively.

Hamza explains; "In Zanzibar people are afraid to even pass near the gates of the mental hospital and patients here are treated like animals. But they are human beings who need to be helped by all of us."

The organisation realised the need for the patients to use the art classes as regular occupational therapy during their stay and after their discharge from the hospital. The classes were seen as a way of improving their quality of life with creative activities as well as giving the patients some knowledge and skills that would help them in their everyday life once discharged from hospital. In keeping with the aims of ZAYAA these classes were designed to offer the patients an opportunity to explore their own artistic abilities and potential.

The artists worked as volunteer teachers visiting the hospital twice a week for classes, taking time out from their own work. The classes ran successfully for over six months with the initial attendance of 17 patients growing in number every week.

The project was supported by the Stone Town Cultural Centre - an Aga Khan Cultural Service initiative and a keen supporter of the work of ZAYAA. "We all really enjoyed the classes - both the students and the teachers.

It was a positive experience for all of us," Hamza says.

ZAYAA organised an exhibition of the students' work to coincide with Mental Health Day in October last year to raise awareness among the local community about issues affecting the mentally ill.

The exhibition was produced to professional standards in order to encourage the audience to change their attitudes and focus on the abilities and the potential of those who attended the classes, so often marginalised in society.

The exhibition also helped ZAYAA to promote its own work as an NGO and to gain support for such projects.

"The government now knows about our NGO and we were able to get some exposure and recognition for the work we are doing," Hamza explains.

Although the future of ZAYAA and its projects inevitably depend on funding from donors and collaborators, the organisation still runs its project at the mental hospital with plans for more exhibitions in future. They also have plans to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to work in schools and with teachers to produce a school art curriculum.

As an organisation, they are looking for ways to open up their own centre in Zanzibar offering studio space to artists, classes and a permanent place to exhibit their work.

read also: MODERN AFRICAN ART

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read also : Start ] Modern tribal art ] African-textiles ] Contemporary art ] Monaco-Arts-Africa ] African-vibes ] Africa screams ] Africa-remix ] Documenta Madrid ] African-words ] Shona stone family sculpture ] hairstyles - Blaffer gallery ] Twins-Seven-Seven ] Jean Pigozzi ] Miami art museum-Mutu ] River Crossing ] Fiber-Art ] airbrush art gallery ] contemporary art ] Seydou Keyta ] [ Zanzibar artists ] modern african art ] museum of modern art ] Cape Africa ] art fairs list ] Ifa Lethu ] guggenheim bilbao ] zimbabwe stone art ] South African paintings ] code coverage tool c ] African American food ] expanding Africa ] primitivism revisited ] Chapunga sculpture park ] fire in the heart ] tribal tattoos ] south africa gallery ] african encounters ] architecture of the veil ] blood art ] Shona stone sculptures ] Contemporary African Diasporan Arts ] south african art ] Contemporary art from Africa ] jose vermeersch ] Is It Art ] Ebay African Art ]

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