RETURN OF WESM ARTS FESTIVAL
The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) hosted its 2019 Arts Festival in Lilongwe at Four Seasons Nursery after a 7-year hiatus. Running from Friday 21st June to Sunday 23rd June, the WESM Arts Festival showcased incredible and diverse artistic talent in Malawi by featuring 400 pieces of unique works by 40 of Malawi’s and the region’s finest artists. Live performances from George Kalukusha, Kim of Diamonds, Sesory, Danny Kalima, Rebecca Mwalwenje, VJ Ice, and Alex Chiwaya graced the WESM Arts Festival stage, with the opening of the silent auction on Friday and Saturday’s exhibition holding pottery, painting and batik workshops throughout the day.
According to 2019 WESM Arts Festival producer Pádraic MacOireachtaigh, the festival had taken a 7-year hiatus as some of the organizers had left the country. “For many years, WESM presented a visual arts exhibition, connecting artists to buyers and showcasing the finest of Malawi’s artistic talent. WESM has been dedicated to protecting Malawi’s remarkable diversity of animals and habitats for nearly 70 years,” he explained. Plans to revamp the WESM Arts Festival as an annual event again are already underway. The festival aims to provide the space for discussion about the role of art in society, and about issues of conservation and ecology in our Malawian context MacOireachtaigh adds.
For the WESM Arts Festival, artists were encouraged to interpret this year’s “Green” theme, in color or in concept as imaginatively as they wanted. The themed works were featured in the silent auction on Friday evening with other pieces on sale throughout the festival. The team is working to connect artists to buyers through providing a platform that empowers emerging talent to sell their work to global markets; raising the visibility of new voices yet to be discovered and for artists from different specializations to connect with each other.
Taking Malawian art onto the global stage, celebrating art in local public spaces and people’s living rooms will take the involvement of ordinary Malawians taking an interest in art and art events. Through frequently seeing the value of visual arts daily, perhaps the mindset most have of dismissing it as a viable and sustainable career path might shift to the bigger picture of creative industries playing major roles in contributing to the Malawian economy. The future is undeniably bright for creatives as the world continues to look to the arts to connect people beyond language and other barriers that often divide us, regardless of technological advancements. The involvement of diplomats and government buyers who can facilitate platforms, policies and regulations that would strengthen and build the creative arts industry landscape can make all the difference in taking Malawian art to the world on a global scale and reaping the monetary benefits.
Painting artist, with 20 years-experience in wildlife and landscape artistry, Nyangu Chodola, described the festival’s return as a welcomed and positive development that makes it easier for established and upcoming young artists to find markets beyond the geographical limits of Malawi in a way that was not possible before, thanks to connections through social media platforms, networking and availability of information on how to reach potential global markets.
For example, he saw the festival bring in 78 clients on the Friday exhibition alone, a reach that would normally be nearly impossible to achieve individually in a single day. The experience required to survive in the Malawian visual arts industry is one that can drain an artist of the will to make a living from their passion. Chodola has a studio and gallery along Lilongwe – Salima road, and also exhibits at Abantu Emperium at Gateway Mall, La Galleria at Old Town Mall and La Caravena in Blantrye.
The festival was supported by Farmers World, House of Basse’iah, Ufulu Gardens, SunnyMoney and Pa Khonde who helped to make the event possible. Farmer’s World Marketing Manager David Lecluse believes in Farmer’s world being proactive when it comes to corporate social responsibility. He sees it as important to give back to the communities they trade in, be it through their Tchove Tchove Race or their recent partnership with WESM . He further adds that sustainability of conservation efforts and growth of the arts culture is undoubtedly an important part of development in Malawi, an important reason why Farmer’s World proudly supported the WESM Arts Fest and why other organizations and brands should join in adding value to the arts industry.