NEXT EDITION: February 2nd to 19th 2017, Enquiries Welcome

Artist in Residence

Lili Nalovi & Jesko Willert:
The Shela Schoolyard Canvases

The students of Shela Primary School began their outdoor painting sessions with visiting artists Lili Nalovi and Jesko Willert hesitantly. “They were shy,” recalls Jesko, “I think they were scared of getting something wrong.” Nine weeks later, that reserve was gone. “They were much more open and poetic on the canvas,” says Lili. This progress was strikingly symbolized at the end of the project, when a bunch of the kids took off on Naomi dhow with a sail made from one of their huge canvasses. Over the Lamu channel they cruised, with their paintings flapping brightly above them: images of cars, helicopters, stars and hearts flying through the air, like dreams thrown to the wind.

Jesko had had the idea of organizing a communal painting activity in Lamu long before getting there. After arriving and consulting with locals, the Shela Schoolyard Canvases project was born: free-style painting sessions with the school kids, to take place every Thursday at 1pm for the duration of artists’ stay.

Sixty-odd kids gathered excitedly for the first session, yet they hesitated to make the first mark on the blank canvas. The artists quickly understood why: “These kids had never expressed themselves in such a way before,” Jesko says. “At first, they didn’t want to switch colours, or paint outside the bit of canvas where they had started to work.” Jesko and Lili helped them along by asking if they could ‘borrow’ a blue in exchange for a yellow. Jesko also shocked them by suddenly flinging paint at the canvas, and encouraging the kids to try it.

“Every week they became a little more free,” says Lili. Eventually, the kids began to dip their hands in the paint and press their palms all over the canvas. The artists were touched to see them finally being creative in this tactile primeval way, unselfconsciously enjoying the feel of paint colouring the world at a touch.

The schoolyard canvases were put on display in public spaces around Lamu during the Shela Easter Art Weekend. They are now with the school, serving as a reminder of another way of being and seeing. Lili and Jesko, meanwhile, were deeply moved by the Shela Schoolyard Canvases project and have plans to arrange something similar in other places, including India and Burma. They will also turn one canvas into a sail for the Olga Gomez, Jesko’s boat in Hamburg. The colourful sail will fly, like a flag for Lamu, across the still waters of the Alster.