It was not a huge place.
Nor well known.
London has mega art spaces like Tate Modern where 240 seat auditorium and nine passenger lifts to numerous floors are normal. Turbine Hall for instance entertains at least 1,500 heads. This was nothing like that. Nevertheless, it opened eyes to the little known country of Tanzania overseas.
Pictures always tell a story and these ones really did remarkably well. The venue was The Chapel, St Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green, East London. You can easily find St Margaret’s House online. Oh, lord it was ordinary, simple and beautiful. Simple, because it was individual effort of three young Europeans who had worked briefly on a small rural project in Mbeya.
Hold a sec.
Many a foreigner have visited remote parts of the world and grabbed images, which they later brag about to family and friends. “I was here,” “I was there”, “Look at this abandoned dog”, “See that smiling poor boy...” Photographs keep memories.
Viewer checks out the images of Rungwe kids...pic by Amy Read.
Throughout my travels, I have met sincere people and these young whites fitted the bill of frankness. Why? The pictures were not about exotic sentimentalism.
Take the publicity shot of a little girl called “Biti” (Beatrice); arms folded with natural childlike abandon on her head. Biti was the chosen face of the photo exhibition. She stares at you with laughing eyes.
Photographer Amy Read who took the image and her colleagues, Saraya Cortaville ( A Raleigh photograher) and Evelina Moceviciute, were part of a team, in Rungwe early this year, teaching entrepreneurial skills to local Tanzanian youths. They were in village as ICSE (International Citizen Service Entrepreneur) volunteers with Raleigh International and together with the Tanzanian volunteers on delivering entrepreneurship training and coaching to the local youth among other community based activities. Team leader, Ms Moceviciute (originally from Lithuania finished her Masters in Development Studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). It was Ms Moceviciute’s initiative to have the exhibition.
Searching for Tanzanian or East African musicians, my name was recommended by Kinsi Abdullah of Rich Mix club. It was not just an exhibition to show those dear Lukata village kids. It was a fundraising appeal. Money gained from sales of the pictures shall help underprivileged pupils with school bags, exercise books, uniforms, etc.the music...pic by Amy Read
Viewers of the exhibits were mostly young Londoners. Some already been in Tanzania. In villages. None of them jabbered about wild animals and beaches and exotic sights. Most tried recalling Swahili phrases. One insisted I speak Swahili to him while he referred to his Swahili pocket book and accepted being corrected. He loves Morogoro. Another recalled a certain “Chakula” she had eaten and wanted to have it again. Something with cabbage and tomatoes. She had consumed this particular dish in a Singida village. All said wonderful things about Tanzanians. Friendly. Most vowed to return...Author entertains...pic by Amy Read
Then there was the music. On such occasions, you try to give general history. I mentioned the great Hukwe Zawose who died in 2004. Played Ilimba. Then guitar. Then Ngoma. Felt fantastic. The only black face in the audience was a Nigerian guy from Lagos. Most averaged twenty to thirty five years. Yes, we had a few Wazee; but, let us conclude. This was a youthful evening.
What is so striking about that?
At such an age, a young graduate is choosing options. Do something useful. Help heal the world. I heard that phrase at least twice. Visit Africa. Be with the people. Idealism. Work without exploiting or destroying locals or those you interact with. Be more responsible than governments. Similar to coffee, cocoa or tropical thunderstorms, the photographs were a catalyst for positive dreaming.
It would have been better to have more Tanzanians and Africans. Is this really what most of us want to see overseas?
I remember when our iconic, famous painter, Raza Mohammed, came to London in June 2011. His exhibition was promoted by Global Fusion Music and Arts in Greenwich. Then Deputy High Commissioner, Chabaka Kilumanga made a speech praising the drive, push and initiative. Privately the man who is now Ambassador to Mauritius also paints. However, policy wise, how far do our authorities promote these arts? What happened to Nyumba ya Sanaa, in Dar es Salaam, recently?
Photographer Simona busy with her equipment as author plays Tanzanian traditional Ilimba. Pic by Amy Read.
Is the average African keen to visit art exhibitions? Does it excite us? Libraries too. Once the late Professor Seithy Chachage said entrepreneurs and business guys prefer constructing bars and pubs to libraries. Our mind set loves art in different ways. Call it a middle class or upper class mentality, but our panorama is still in transition. Having said that...
How many young Tanzanians (or Africans in general) would visit overseas for a short period, see something useful enough to show when they return? How many think “outside the box” of academics, money and material items? Ponder, reflect, learn.
This is a perfect example of how art and simple images can play a role in drawing people together. Boost education. Contribute peace to the world. Help know distant, unknown places. Effortlessly.
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Published in Citizen Column "Chat from London"- Friday 9th October, 2015