• ‘A Creative Learning Space – Insight into the Nafasi Academy ‘ | Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

    EAS correspondent Valerie Amani introduces us to the recently opened Nafasi Academy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, at the Nafasi Art Space, a vibrant art centre and platform for artistic exchange where contemporary visual artists and performing artists come together to create, learn, inspire, exhibit and perform.

    Students in the classroom | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    Art education, in my opinion, should serve the purpose of sparking curiosity, encouraging free thought and empowering artists with the tools to speak loud and clearly through what they create. For the young emerging Tanzanian artist, such a space barely existed until February of this year, when Nafasi Academy opened its doors to the first 14 candidates to undergo its fully funded* progressive program.

    Students in the classroom | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    The structure and development of formal art education in Tanzania has a somewhat traditional and rigid approach. The concept of contemporary art itself, within the context of Dar es salaam is very much at a budding stage, still anticipating a bloom. Unlike other art industries around the African continent, that have an abundance of reputable and experimental art training programs, contemporary art education in Tanzania is still fresh clay ready to be molded. Until this year, many young artists who couldn't afford to pursue fine art formally, lacked the resources, support and consistent training to help them further advance their careers.

    The exhibition space | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    Nafasi Academy openly advocates for free thinking, experimentation and SPACE, departing from the University model that opts to focus traditionally on technique (with a capital T), often leading to technically capable but conceptually lacking artists. Nafasi Art Space director, Rebecca Corey, highlighted this when asked what makes the programe different.

    “The curriculum was designed around questions of how art can serve the goal of further enriching human potential. It needed to be community driven, critical and liberatory. It connects artists with one another, asking them to seek freedom and emancipation through art. Freedom to be who they are and say what they want. Free from political, economic and psychological constraints.” 

    Preparing for the opening | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    With Tanzania having a recent streak of speech suppression, as a result of the government's various rules and regulations that control content and intimidate media, it is vital to protect the will and necessity of maintaining free thought within the creative sector. Rebecca also adds that the program is process centered - instead of focusing on the outcome, it emphasizes the  artistic journey and process. “It is not about learning in a classroom,” she says; it is about “learning from each other and being part of important conversations that are happening within the community and society.”

    Art shop | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    Having been part of the conceptualization process for many years, I ask Rebecca to highlight her favorite moment so far. She describes the first workshop they had, in which the students were asked the following questions: “What is art? Why does it matter? What is the role of the artist in society?”. I believe every artist should occasionally ask themselves these questions, to bring themselves back to the purpose of their creating.


    Building the space | photo credit: Nafasi Art Space

    The physical structure of the Academy is an achievement of its own. She describes the joy she felt when the Academy space was finally complete. Using five 40-foot shipping containers, the Academy team and Nafasi staff spent months coming up with the position and orientation of the Academy, having various community input sessions. They worked through twenty different designs, and finally what emerged was a space that incorporates a gallery, an art shop, a workshop space, a library and a performance and outdoor screening space! Phew!

    The chosen students consist of young female and male artists, working in a range of media. Out of the fourteen, I asked two to comment on their experiences so far, highlighting in their own words why they applied to the Academy and what encompasses their experience thus far.

    Liberatha Alibalio | Photo credit: Nicholas Calvin


    Liberatha Alibalio is a textile artist who is inspired by nature, fabric and culturally traditional societies.

    “I applied to Nafasi Academy because I wanted to be a professional artist so bad. The most interesting thing I have learned, besides the history of African art, is concept development. This is very interesting because it gives me a wider understanding of how I can create based on research and use references to make my art stronger.” 

    On asking about her creative process she said, “When I start creating it is always like a puzzle and I don’t like having the real picture of the result. I enjoy being surprised by my own creativity. When I am done, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and my art surprises me when I look at it and wonder if I did that. It’s like magic and [I] love it!”





    [Click on Liberatha's artworks below to see enlarged image]    |    From Left: Horizon II  |  Abstract I Horizon I










    'Celestial Creature' by Martin Wendo



    Martin Wendo experiments with sculpture and drawing, creating work that ranges from fantasy to surrealism. He states that he cannot pinpoint what inspires him, but there are many spiritual references in his work.

    “I joined Nafasi Academy because I wanted to learn and know more about the art industry. [I wanted] to know other artists so that I could be a better artist and be able to help other artists to learn what I learn. I have learned many things and they are all interesting, but what caught my attention is that our country has one of the oldest drawings ever. It really got my attention! And about African artworks that are outside or are in a place which they aren't supposed to be.  It's a big debate, but I hope it ends up with our art coming back.”



    From Left: Love | Friends | Untitled by Martin Wendo

    Lastly, both Liberatha and Martin think the Academy is important because it is the only art Academy of its kind that exists in Tanzania, that is actively trying to improve contemporary art in the country. It is evident that the enthusiasm they so infectiously carry is synonymously held among all the students.

    Meditation by Hussein Karanda

    The last few months have brought forth many emotions in all of us as a global community. Revealing more vividly the gaps within our societies and causing visible and invisible wounds within our personal lives. Art and the creative industry have been a cornerstone in providing some sort of escape, or alternative content to the overflow of information regarding the pandemic. Taking this into consideration, it was vital that the Academy, shortly after it opened in February and experienced this setback, kept providing a space of comfort and a space of imagination for the students.

    Through the chaos of Covid19, the Academy has continued its classes and workshops online - supporting the students through an online exhibition, virtual artist lectures and sharing sessions. This has all been made possible by the management team and the array of local and international artists that have been willing to contribute to these sessions.

    Hehe Lady by Jennifer Msekwa



    The existence of programs like the Nafasi Academy is a reminder that the purpose of art education is not solely the education itself. It is the experience of learning in an environment that uplifts; it is the building of a supportive community and a space creativity can belong, expand and bloom.

    *Funded by the Hivos VOICE grant.


    Valerie Amani is an artistic explorer based in Dar es salaam, Tanzania. Her multimedia approach includes incorporating textile, poetry, moving image and digital collage into her work. She has won awards in fashion and has co-authored a book titled Black Amara, a visual and literary journey of love, loss and healing. She experiments with the elements of memory and emotion, her art pieces having narratives around the changing complexities of identity and body, along with the nuances of daily existence through a neo-african feminine lens.

    Instagram: @ardonaxela | website: www.valerieamani.com


  • Looking Back to ‘Building Bridges – Yangon’

    Looking back at the now famous exhibition 'Building Bridges -Yangon' we are happy to publish here clips of interviews with some of the artists who were part of that special event: Aung Thu Phyo, Bay Bay, Kaung Swan Thar, Pho Wa, Shun Wint Aung and Bo Bo talk about their works in the exhibition, what inspired them, and how they interpreted a theme that encouraged reflection on divisions, conflicts, separations, and the effort to move beyond, to find ways to communicate across social and cultural divides.


    Many thanks to all of you for your participation!

    The exhibition ‘Building Bridges -Yangon' took place in the historic Tourist Burma Building
    in Yangon, Mynamar,
    in July 2019. You can read more about the exhibition here.

  • ‘Experiencing Through Their Eyes’ by Jayeti Bhattacharya | Kolkata, India

    Reflecting on her experience on teaching art to children and teenagers, Indian artist Jayeti Batthacharaya offers a vivid account of her approach: “experiencing through their eyes” and engaging the creative power of minds and senses.


    Being an artist always make me restless to be more interrogative, curious, researching the existing truth. With these things in mind I started to explore different approaches to art education, looking more attentively at the works of the children and trying to understand how powerfully imaginative can the young minds be while engaging in creating their visual responses.

    Artwork by: Aayushi Jain, Grade 12                                                   'Man in a Bowler Hat' by Rene Magritte

    The first thing that I would like to draw attention to is the term “visual art”. The term “visual” does not only refer to something that we witness through our naked eyes, but also to something that we imagine in our minds, simply by listening, without even looking at any object or being. So to visualize something requires that our minds are engaged with our senses, to understand the aesthetic beauty in it. This is what I feel we must convey, rather impart, to the younger minds, in order to help them grow into powerful creative minds.

    Art education should be an important part of school education. Unfortunately I think that in the majority of schools in our country art is being taught following limited stereotypes. Art should not be a subject that requires students to imitate what the teachers draw on the board, then finish their work and go back to their respective classes. It should instead make the students think, it should trigger their minds’ visual play, and then let them watch what they themselves start creating with unusual skills. In the process of learning art they will start developing coordination of hands and mind, along with observation skills, which not only will help them develop their creative minds, but their cognitive minds as well, which in turn will shape their entire process of growing. Teachers should not be preachers with ardent followers, but facilitators who create an environment of sharing and exchanging of ideas.

    Re-interpreting the word 'Art' by students of 4th grade, 9years old

    While teaching a series of classes in different grades, with different age groups, I came across certain interesting facts, which made me think that if we push the children to think a little, they will certainly think large. In one of my regular classes, while introducing art to the students of grade 4, I thought of asking the children to write down something they feel when they visualize the word ART…and interesting the first word that came up on the board was RAT…(up left corner). I was amazed to realize that a nine year old girl (her name is Harshita) was able to rearrange the letters of the word, instantly thinking of a new word, and to create a new visual in her mind from the existing word. Some other noticeable words that came up while looking at the word ART were: IMPROVEMENT, REUSE, FICTION, CARS, TART, FOLK PAINTING… These words revealed uncommon thoughts which struck the children. And here starts the process of self assessing and pushing to think what ART is for them.

    Visualizing words

    WORD PLAY: Response from the group of grade 4 students, 9years old

    After this session I thought, why not pushing them a little more beyond their thinking boundaries. So, in the next session I repeated the task, with the same age group but different students: they were given some random chits of paper with different words written on it on one side; the other side was left blank, for them to interpret the words in their own way and create a visual for each word.

    WORD PLAY: Response from the group of grade 4 students, 9years old

    The task was done one to one, that is, one chit given to one student. To my surprise I got some wonderful spontaneous results. From this findings I can say that these words were acting on the young minds in different ways. Some were triggering memories, some translated into symbolical visuals, some were interpreted very thoughtfully, and some as the facts of reality. When the same exercise was done with the age group of 12 year olds (grade 7) the results were completely different: I found less spontaneity and more considerate responses.

    The same exercise was done again with the age group of 10 years olds (grade 5), and this time the responses were public and open to all.

    3 different interpretations for the same word (students of Grade 5)
    Interpretation of words by students of Grade 5

    The word was given to them on the green board and they were called to the board randomly, one by one, to visually interpret the word; here again the same word was shaped in different visual forms by different children. There was a tension of excitement throughout the class, about who will get the next chance, whether their friends interpreted their same thoughts, if she would get a chance before her friend, etc. It was a constant brainstorming about how many more visuals they could think of on the same word!

    Working with the age group of 14 to 17 years olds was a completely new and different experience: the students were themselves the teachers, coming up with new ideas, while I was there to help them in execution only.

    Creating Stories

    THE STORY: Images of objects given to students to create stories


    Just like with words, another time I tried the opposite task, giving the children drawings of scattered objects, asking them to frame a visual composition using those objects, and frame a story out of them. In order to do this, to frame a composition and a meaningful story out of it, they had to use together the creative as well as the logical aspects of the brain.



    'The Story' (Works done by the 5th grade students of Sushila Birla Girls’ School Kolkata)
    'The Story' (Works done by the 5th grade students of Sushila Birla Girls’ School Kolkata)
    'The Story' (Works done by the 5th grade students of Sushila Birla Girls’ School Kolkata)
    'The Story' (Works done by the 5th grade students of Sushila Birla Girls’ School Kolkata)

    In this process of framing visuals an intriguing work came up in the graphic novel class, when one child came up and showed me five slides with the concept of Chandrayan 2 (Space Mission) , which was recently the talk of the nation.

    It felt good to see that the child tried to visualize her story through drawings which had both real and surreal features. In the process of developing a story through visuals on their own, the children will develop skills in different aspects of growth, with a sense of comprehending the reality.

    The story of Chandrayan 2 (first five pages from the book of 20)

    Another interesting response came from a student of grade 12 (Aayushi Jain) who, understanding the works of the surrealist artist Rene Magritte, created her own works in the form of the face of a girl her age, with images of different thoughts embedded over it (see image at the top of the article).

    This is what I always imagine I can help my students do: to think beyond and to create in their minds visuals relating to reality; then automatically they will improve on their creativity skills. In most art classes for children and teenagers the hand skills are given priority, but I am convinced that, as teachers, we should inspire the young minds by making them think freely and beyond. The other skills will be automatically learned in the process.



    Jayeti Bhattacharya is an artist living and working in Kolkata, India. She holds a Master’s of Fine Arts from Kala Bhavana, Visva Bharati University. Her work has been shown in many exhibitions, including ‘Defining a Relative Space’ at A.M. Studio; ‘Bad Smell Good Smell’ at Studio 21 in Kolkata; ‘Last Image Show’, both in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2018 and Lusaka, Zambia. In 2019. She was also part of the CIMA Award Show 2019 in Kolkata. Many of her works include a combination of painting and mixed media and address overarching themes related to time, space, land, history and existential reality.