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Artist in Residence

Lili Nalovi & Jesko Willert:
The Anidan Orphanage Sessions

Nobody remains incognito in Lamu for long. The intimacy of village life means that strange faces soon become familiar and news travels fast. Yet, Lili Nalovi and Jesko Willert very quickly achieved a special notoriety because of the Shela Schoolyard Canvases. When they met Seitan, an assistant from the Anidan Orphanage, he immediately said: “I wish you could come and paint with our kids.” A few days later the couple went to visit the orphanage and arranged to do one session. At the end of it, the Anidan kids were ecstatic: “Can we do it again?” they asked. How could Lili and Jesko refuse?

The Anidan orphanage was founded in 2002 by Rafael Selas, a visiting Spaniard, who had been shocked by the sight of scavenging youngsters during his trips to Lamu. Today, this haven on Lamu’s northern coast cares for and educates about two hundred children, half of whom live in the shelter on site. Lili and Jesko quickly noticed something distinctive about the Anidan orphans: “Their painting was so free – much more free than the kids in Shela. Immediately they started to paint themselves,” says Lili. The kids spread colour over their foreheads and cheeks in unconscious echoes of the ceremonial practices of their tribal ancestors. “In Shela Primary School it took eight weeks before the kids painted their hands,” she adds. This playful attitude is indicative of a more relaxed and nurturing educational approach at Anidan.

Many of the children were physically or sexually abused before they got to the orphanage. This aspect of their biographies was especially resonant with Lili since she had previously made art around the theme of sexual abuse. Indeed, her mixed media artworks on the subject won her the Prix du Jury in the European competition for contemporary art „Salon de Printemps“, LAC, Luxembourg, 1996. “I had worked before to raise awareness of these terrible things, and it was very hard,” Lili says. “At Anidan the whole experience was so positive. It was beautiful to see these kids who had suffered having fun and expressing themselves.”

The Anidan canvases have been sent to Spain, where the organization is registered as a charity and administered from. The canvases will be auctioned as part of celebrations and fund-raising activities to mark the ten-year anniversary of the orphanage.

“The painting is a bridge,” Jesko says, “for the kids, for the teachers, for us – and sometimes even beyond. We all cross and meet somewhere else through the process. I think it’s important for the kids to realize that learning can also be like this! Fun! Free! Not just technical, not just language-based.” Giving kids that insight is the most precious thing. “It’s just a moment,” Jesko acknowledges, “but it’s a moment that can change a life.”