Artist in Residence

Joachim Sauter
The Maweni Project – Where The Stones Originate

Maweni is a village on Manda island in the Indian ocean. Manda is part of the Lamu archipelago, which lies off the Kenyan coast. The island is a coral reef where stones for house construction are quarried. This particular coral stone has been used in Swahili architecture for centuries.

The Maweni quarries, which are in the vicinity of the village, have been exploited since the 1960s. The men strike deep into the earth with pickaxes to excavate large hunks of coral stone, which are then roughly hewn into rectangular blocks. Meanwhile, the women dig in caves and in the bush for ‘cocoto’ (small fragments of coral stone), which is used for the creation of facades and for mixing concrete.

From the main square, where the material is collected, the stones are hoisted onto the shoulders of men who work as ‘carriers’. In an astonishing feat of strength and balancing, these ‘carriers’ take the stones to the shore, where they are transferred to waiting boats, which then transport the stones to Lamu.

There are no machines available at any stage of the process, so the work is achieved only by sheer physical force. The people who do this work are Kikuyus from central Kenya, and Luos from Nyanza Province (near Lake Victoria). They came here in search of work. Many of them have already lived in Maweni with their families for years. Others have established temporary homes and return to visit their families only once or twice a year.

The central idea of this art project is to create a portrait of Maweni and its people. The artist Joachim Sauter will do this primarily through life-size sculptures, but also with sketches and graphic prints. The work will gradually give a picture of the tough life led by these people, symbolized most powerfully in the figure of the ‘carrier’.

The initial focus of Mr. Sauter’s work is to capture the characteristics of individuals, and at the same time to represent the physicality of the act of carrying coral stone. This theme will evolve with the progression of the project.

Supplementing the artistic plan is a local ethnological study that will be done by Susanne Warndorf. She will examine existing social relations and hierarchies in Maweni, keeping an eye out for any changes that may result from the art project. As part of her general survey, Ms. Warndorf will, for instance, follow the path of the stones at every stage, from when they are quarried until they are delivered for construction, and observe all the economic interactions along the way.

These two studies form the foundation of the Maweni Project, which will find its conclusion in a series of exhibitions accompanied by detailed documentation of the process. An extension of the project’s scope through photos and a documentary film is also being considered. A period of two to three years is anticipated for completion of the project.

Work has already begun: in November 2011, Joachim Sauter spent four weeks making sketches in Maweni, and Susanne Warndorf did some preliminary interviews with locals about ancestry, economic situation, education and future expectations. These undertakings helped Ms. Warndorf and Mr. Sauter establish an outline for the project, which is now very much underway.

In February 2012, the first wooden sculpture of a stone ‘carrier’ was completed in an open-air studio in Maweni. The sculpture was given as a gift to the village, where it now stands on a cliff facing the shore, providing a timeless reminder that:

No man is born into the world whose work
Is not born with him; there is always work
And tools to work withal, for those who will....

James Russell Lowell

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