Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Smithsonia Folklife Festival ... KENYA

Last Thursday afternoon, just before going to the opening reception of Last Words, my solo show at the Tapps Art Center, Steve suggested getting up early the next morning and heading to Washington, DC for Fourth of July fireworks and the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall.  Of course, I thought this was a brilliant idea!  I love spontaneous and "last minute" ideas.  I also love Washington, DC.

(Above:  Musical/dancing troupe from Kenya.)

I stitched on the car ride there and back but didn't even touch a needle and thread on Saturday!  Why?  Well, how could I resist and entire day visiting KENYA and CHINA ... or at least the "best of the best" that is always part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  

(Above:  Recycling Station.)

Steve and I were on the National Mall before the Saturday 11 AM opening.  This gave us time to check out the recycling efforts that are always an important part of the festival.  This year COMPOSTING was added!  WOW! 

The signs were displayed promeniently.  Volunteers manned the stations.

People consciously used the provided containers.  It is good to see the automatic compliance to keep the environment clean!

(Above:  Cement, re-bar, and recycled material African hut.)

This blog post shares the photos we took in the area for KENYA ... including some very cool uses for recycled materials. 

This hut was made from all sorts of used glass bottles.

The sunlight shown through the bottles and flooded the interior with color.

The hut was made by two brothers, Patrick and Isaac Kibe, self taught muralists who specialize in using recycled materials for construction but also create ...

... fabulous tiny insects from snipped tin cans and discarded wire.

Steve and I chatted with one of the two brothers.  He was very upbeat, excited to be in the USA, and thrilled that people like his work!

Who wouldn't like these creatures ... but ...

... I was most impressed by the well designed bird feeder made from a plastic soda bottle!  (Dad ... this one's for you!  The PVC and metal rods went all the way through the bottle ... forming feeding ducts and a place on which the bird could land!  Maybe you can make these for next year's Slippery Rock In Bloom project! Hint! Hint!)

(Above and below:  The head of a giraffe sculpture ... made entirely from recycled flip flops!)

The tent in which Patrick and Isaac Kibe worked was also occupied by Ocean Sole, a Kenyan company that specializes in turning recycled flip flops (generally those washed up on east African beaches) into unique sculptures.  (Click here for the article provided by the Smithsonian.)

It was wonderful to see the raw material ...

... in the hands of the artists who used ordinary wood glue to make a mass of flip flops into a unit for carving!

This was their "sanding" equipment. 

From the "sustainable" area, Steve and I wandered over to the "clay" demonstration.

The vessels came in all sizes and shapes and were in various stages of production.

The patterns were simple, organic, and clearly showed the marks of a master who could quickly decorate and entire surface without a single mistake and without losing any of beauty of being "hand made."

The woman making these vessels used a rotating stand made from an old tire rim.  She had her audience entranced.  She worked very quickly, very expertly.  Fascinating!

Like most areas in the Folklife Festival, there were tables for hands-on activities.  Children were totally getting into every aspect of Kenya ... from the clay ...

... to the carving ...

... to the musical instruments.

Each area had artisans working.

Throughout the Kenya area hung colorful khangas.  These unique pieces of fabric are also called Lesos.  They are generally sold in pairs and include a proverb or saying printed somewhere in the design.  They were used for the food stall tablecloths and decorated just about every tent and artistic station.  Many of the designs were available for purchase in the festival's gift shopping area.  No one knew what would happen to all the used during the festival.  I sure hope they aren't tossed!

The patterns were BEAUTIFUL.  Each piece had a company label.  I found the website.

Each piece also had a care instruction label ... on which it also said "Made in India".  I had to ask about that too!  Seriously?  India?  Well, the explanation was that the COTTON came from India.  The printing is actually done in Tanzania.  The company, however, is located in Kenya.  Of course, the border between Kenya and Tanzania are a modern invention!  Due to East Africa's location, trade with India goes back for ages too!  Whatever!  The fabrics certainly were beautiful and the printed color was quite intense, nearly as deep on the back as on the front.

Near the textile area was a tent with BEADS!  Who doesn't like beads?

The colors, shapes, and combinations were simply eye-candy!

Everything in the Kenya area had a look of original art ...

... even the discarded rope, twine, and netting!  This was undoubtedly a pile of material that didn't make it into the many tented displays! 

Easily, this could have been an art installation in any other setting!

It was near the fence that separated the Folklife Festival from Constitution Avenue ... near a location where musicians parked their drums!

Steve and I went on to see the soapstone carvers ....

... and the master plaster carver.  This display was quite interesting due to the construction needed to bring the process to the National Mall.  Ordinarily, plaster work is done on a building's wall.  The artwork becomes part of the building.  The building is the support ... which isn't possible in this setting.

We had to look at the back to determine how this was made possible!  Drywall was mounted into a very, very heavy metal frame.  Metal braces supported the back.  The frame was firmly linked to pipes planted in the soil and to a strong metal beam overhead.  The artist (who unfortunately was on his lunch break while we visited) applied thick layers of plaster to the front, carved into the plaster, and built up the surface with ornamentation.  It had to weigh A LOT!  This is an excellent example of the work needed to bring unique art forms to this festival.

Near the plaster carving was another tent.  It was called the shipyard construction site.  What a wonderful maze of "stuff"!

I have no idea what started out in this collection or if these remaining items were going to be used.  The festival would end the next day.  Yet, I know what got built from the materials that were once housed here!

(Above and below:  A Dhow .... built by several master carvers from Lamu Old Town on Lamu Island.)

The guys were just putting the finishing touches on this vessel.  It is now part of the Smithsonian collection.  When I asked if this dhow would get an opportunity to be launched ... like IN WATER ... I was jokingly told, "Well, there's plenty to do to pass inspections, get registered, etc."  Everyone laughed!

One of our final stops was to watch Ahmed Mohamed Nongodha stitching hand-embroidered Islamic hats known as kofia.   Mr. Nonogodha wasn't particularly interested in any interaction with the public but he allowed people to watch him ply a sharp porcupine quill for every hole ... and then stitch approximately 17 - 23 buttonhole stitches around each hole.  I had no idea there was this much work in each hat!  After a bit, he seemed to realize I had a real interest.  He showed me his work.  I felt priveleged!

While I was watching, Steve had a bit of a break in one of the caned chairs!

Maybe Mr. Nongodha was initially reluctant to talk because I was with the guy wearing the floppy, green hat!

We didn't stay for the demonstration on Kenyan cuisine.  The smells of curry were thick in the air.  We would have been too hungry for China ... which was just a few feet away!  That's be my next post! 

I'm adding one more picture to "Kenya" ... even though this guy wasn't part of the Folklife Festival at all.  His urban drum set was AWESOME ... and, frankly, we was the best musician we heard all day!  Gotta love the shopping cart that hauled the entire "instrument" to this spot.  He had quite a crowd too!


LA Paylor said...

awesome coverage! I loved seeing the pictures and hearing what interested you. I found the Kenyans to be very interesting. Their accents were musical too. We spoke to different artisans, so your article gave me a chance to learn more. I can't believe the festival may be moved. The park service has been growing more restrictive. We dance at Glen Echo and it's also run by the park service, we've been seeing changes there too. sad. LeeAnna

Anonymous said...

Simply amazing - and the creativity is so humbling and awe inspiring. Thank you for bringing such a great flavour of it online!