Artist in Residence

Chelenge van Rampelberg: Lamu Workshop 2014

Chelenge van RampelbergAn avocado tree split in a storm and came down near Chelange’s bedroom. She called for assistance to chop the tree up for firewood then changed her mind and decided to leave it in three large pieces.  Using crude implements, Chelenge began to cut and shape the wood. She found solace in the solitary work and respect for the grain and feel of the wood under her hands. Reflecting on these first attempts, the artist remembers that she thought it merely an exercise, a healthy way of relieving stress. In three months’ time, however, she had completed three pieces that she loved. Inadvertently, her exercise of stress relief over two decades ago was the beginning of her career as a sculptor.

Born and raised in Kericho, Chelenge found a kindred spirit among the craftsmen in Lamu, especially traditional boat builders whose knowledge of woodworking is passed on from father to son. “When they saw me carving,” she explains, “they brought me their tools, tools that have been handed down to them from their fathers and grandfathers.” Chelenge was touched by their generosity and their eagerness to assist her. She had never witnessed such kindness among strangers. “They even asked if they could help me to carve the wood,” she told me breaking into a warm smile.

Chelenge’s inspiration during her recent Lamu Residency was motivated by a visit to the stone quarries in a village known as Maweni, meaning on the rocks. The village is situated along a shallow mangrove channel on neighbouring Manda Island.  There, coral blocks are cut from the ground and used for building stones locally. “We went by boat and spent hours there,” Chelenge recalls. She was fascinated by the traditional methods of cutting and transporting blocks. That day she watched incredulously as porters carried mountains of cut coral stone on their shoulders, from quay side to boats anchored a short distance off shore. “It was so powerful to watch them,” she explained. “It was like going back to the middle ages, a time of self-sufficiency.” Chelenge’s finished sculpture represents the spirit of those labourers: “It is their strength that inspired me.”

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