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Kalweo, Symon

Waiting 209959

Born on 27th day of the seventh month of the tenth year of Kenya’s independence from Britain, known then as British East Africa until December, 12th, 1963. Spent the first seven years of my life on the Eastern highlands of Mt. Kenya (formerly Mt. Kirinyaga-translates 'mountain of the ostrich') Africa's second highest mountain after Mt. Kilimanjaro (translates -'white mountain'), on the south. It was a largely rural-urban setting. My native community known as the Ameru; are farmers and also traders/merchants. In the year 1980, my family moved to the capital city, Nairobi .This enabled my Father, Jackson Kalweo, to be closer to his Family and work place; He was a member of the Kenyan parliament then as a representative of part of the Ameru tribe. Elizabeth Jackson, my mother, then a nurse and teacher wanted us to have better atmosphere for our education in the city away from all the distractions.(A lot of people used to convene at our residence every day to seek audience from my parents , if they didn't see them they would send us to them).The city was and still is cosmopolitan in nature. This broadened our horizons instantly. It was an effort to try and fit in.

My Parents went as far has banning us to speak our native tongue at home (Meru/Bantu) and instead speak English- which happens to be the official language together with Swahili. As far as I can remember I used to really enjoy art classes in pre-school days. It was at our local Catholic Church that I was 'star struck' by the paintings that were on display during an annual art exhibition. It happened that one of my class teachers and tutor happened to be a youth councilor affiliated to our local church. The following year she asked us if we wanted to participate in the art exhibition. I jumped at the offer but I soon realized that my art skills were not even near the level of excellence I had witnessed at the show. Naturally as a young child (about eleven years old), I had the notion that my dad was a master workman. So I asked him if he would help to do a piece for the show, he said he wasn't good at it and that I should ask Rose my elder sister and the first born, she agreed, I told her that the art work had to be very good . After a couple of trials we decided to depict a scene from the synoptic Gospels of the Christian Bible. Namely the narrative of, The Lord Jesus Christ feeding the five thousand, at the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We tried different approaches and techniques. We were using a well illustrated Children Bible story book series as a guide. At last we ended up tracing different figures from different illustrations and tracing them onto our piece-more like a graphic designer would import different images from pictorial libraries to compose a scene to get the desired effect. We used a combination of markers and colored pencil to add color. The piece was about 20"by 30" mixed media on paper. The piece was well received in my class and school thus was selected together with other pieces from different grades. All over sudden I was getting a lot of attention from my classmates and even older students from other grades were patting my back and the showed me their works too. I was crushed! I felt so terrible because I didn't feel deserving of the praise I was getting. The more praise I got the more pain I felt. Left an urge to truly earn the praise by genuine efforts. Afterwards the class teachers would pick me to illustrate charts for the class though there were other classmates who already were known to posses’ good drawing skills. Naturally we all started competing with each other to see who was better at drawing. We would experiment with different media and subjects matters. Comics also were very influential, which kind of helped with imagination. I really got into it as my mother was very supportive and bought me art supplies, though my Father was wary of it (including video games and comics).

In high school I had almost stopped pursing drawing until I realized that there was an art club at the school. The administration was urging students to join school clubs in order to develop our talents/personalities. The art club happened to be planning for an art show for the forth- coming parents’ day; I painted an impression of Mt. Kenya from a picture in a calendar. I surprised myself with the results; because it is like riding a bike, once you learn you cannot lose the skill only improve and take it to different heights like extreme sports. I eventually became the art club chairman, got involved in a number of small art projects. At age of 17 years , a year before completing my high school education , a neighbor of mine showed me an old calendar his father had (who happened to be the medical field).It had pictures of European masters paintings from different periods including the Impressionist and the Post-expressionist works. The revelation was life changing, resulting in awareness of the local and international art scenes. It was like looking at a mirror and realizing you need to improve your image except this was you inner being.

I became an avid art enthusiast. It was during this time I started attending art shows, festivals, forums and workshops. I familiarized myself with the art community .I also took my works to galleries and on the process meeting different art collectors-which was a learning experience too. After high school I attended an art school in the heart of the city-called creative art center, where I studied fabric design but I dropped out since I didn't have the support of my parents. However I still pursued my artistic explorations with increasing fervor. In the month of November, 1992 my art work was accepted at an annual art exhibition organized by the local French embassy. It was called the Kenya art panorama-which actually included art work from the four corners of the continent of Africa. It was reassuring and very encouraging for young artist to have his or her work selected from a wide and deep lake of talent. Two years went by after four years of secondary education at Aquinas high school, my family was now pressing me to 'do something' with my life.

Naturally my parents wanted me to pursue science or business related careers which would 'ensure' a secure, lucrative and steady employment. I also now knew it was very hard to survive on art alone so I decided to always cultivate my artistic endeavors alongside my studies. In January, 1994 my father sent me to college; Catholic University of Eastern Africa, for a bachelor in business administration majoring in accounts having being inspired by Rose, who was well versed with the discipline. During my four years at the college, I was still active in the art circles and participated in a lot of group shows and festivals. Each year was a learning experience on and off campus. Occasionally I would get exposure from the local media although this went almost unnoticed and even uninterested by my family. In the first month of my final year at the college I had a well received one-man show at the French cultural center which I duped 'facets of life’. Nine months later I graduated from college.

I was now on a cross road on one hand I was not very confident with getting a career as an accountant-since all along college I paid divided attention to my curriculum studies, on the other, even though I had made some breakthroughs in the art world, it would have been a tumultuous task to make a living as an artist at that point of time. Torn between reality and a dream knowing that I needed to rise to another plateau of artistic realm-but I would have to give it 100% attention or full time practice. Attempting to resolve the dilemma by enrolling in an online United Kingdom based accounting classes at the same time trying a different approach to my art work-ended in frustration and turmoil. "Try architecture" was the calm voice of my father, “your drawing skills should help," he added. It was like a ray of light in a gloomy dark cave. Following through with this idea, I was sent to a small architectural firm in the outskirts of the city. It was very unnerving because I felt that it was like scaling a great wall nevertheless I was between a rock and a hard place. It was small firm so I got some attention and was exposed to differing point of views of the practice at a relative short time.

Later I got a chance to intern in the business field too as I had to run the family business, with help from my mother -as they were in partnership with Rose, while she took leave. It was not long that I started getting my confidence back and appreciation for both disciplines-business and architecture. Arriving on the eighth month of the year 2000, I was enrolled at The Iowa state University, Ames Iowa, in a masters program in architecture. Thus realizing that architecture encompasses all disciplines and at the master’s level experience and hands on approach is a plus on the path to ‘find yourself’.

Symon is largely self-taught although had a stint at creative art center in Nairobi city, Kenya with a side of art electives @ Iowa state university.

Art workshops, exhibitions and art festivals have proved helpful in cultivating drive and enthusiasm towards the art world……although subtle it has been, my endearment to art, it has put me at odds with a whole lot of opposing energy from all round……as art ; to date is still frowned upon! Tho’ you can argue that one man’s meat is another man’s poison etc etc.

“Art dynamism and macrocosmic nature serves as a perpetual muse…always coming always going like a waterfall….”- Symon.

My artworks have been shown at the following Exhibitions and Venues:

Gallery watatu- 'Young talents'- '90-'93,

'Kenya art'- '92, 'Custodian view'- '91,

'Woodcuts'- '92,

'Africa for Africa'- '97,

Signature art gallery -'portraits' '92,

'Children of Africa' -'92,

The French cultural Center- Afri-Europe intercultural exchange art exhibition -'93,

Nairobi city hall-kenya-Esso calendar competition 'keeping the planet green'-'91,

The French cultural Center-'Kenya art panorama'- '92,

Total art exhibition-The French cultural center (FCC) -'93,

Kenya museum society art festival -'94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, '00,

Gallery of contemporary East African Art- 'vibrations' (three-man show)- '94, 'new song' (one- man show) -'95,

FCC-'new generation of Kenyan painters'-'95,

Kenya national museum society-East African Industries Art competition -'97,

Holland, Amsterdam-group show-'94 ,'95,

FCC-'Facets of life' (one- man show)- '98,

Village market art festival-'Art affair ' - '98, '99,

Kenya national museum society-'Youth today'-'98,

UNEP headquarters -Kenya -'Future cities'-'98 ,

ISU Credit Union Bank, Ames, IA,'Still' (one -man show)-'02

Stomping Grounds Coffee Shop, Ames IA,'still'(one- man show)-'02,

The Ames city hall-families in Ames celebrating ethnicites (F.A.C.E.S) -including poster and t-shirt design-'02,

Iowa state university college of design career day-‘03,

The Octagon center for arts, Ames, IA, art festival-04'.

2004 to present…freelance.



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