Support Women Artists Now (SWAN) Festival

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Support Women Artists Now – SWAN – is a festival that, as the name suggests, supports women in the arts through a series of activities which typically falls on the last Saturday of March when female artists come together to showcase their art. These arts range from music, beadwork, pottery, dance, acrobatics, painting, playing musical instruments to theatre shows. Other activities that fall on the day of the festival include interactive workshops and talks.

The festival has been celebrated across the globe since 2008. Besides the activities held on the last Saturday of March there are other related activities that run for the whole month of March. It is important to note that the month is globally recognised as Women’s History Month. Alongside other forms of women activism and liberation struggles, the SWAN festival opens one of the many platforms for women’s voices to be channeled through various artistic expressions. Art as they say is the mirror of society, bringing about the good, the ills, addressing societal questions and dilemmas, praising, castigating and starting conversations which may otherwise be difficult to deal with in prose.

Women encompass more than half the population globally although it is a wonder that there is still a need to organise for the equity of women and gender rights in various sectors. Domestic work, for example, is not recognised as work or remunerable mainly because it is done by women. The same goes for art whereby it is usually expected to be  a ‘side hustle’; a big wonder to many when some take it up as their main source of livelihood. For this reason, amplifying the voices of female artists is especially important to allow the channeling of such issues affecting women and the society at large. Liberation through art!

In Kenya, SWAN has been celebrated each year since 2008. 2008 was especially significant for Kenya since – this was the year in which election-related violence reached a climax after the 2007 polls. The country was engulfed in a conflict, leading to the killings of over 1,000 people and the internal displacement of about 600,000. During this time, artists came together and made music and art that brought healing to our nation and reminded us of our oneness and patriotism. SWAN was particularly instrumental in amplifying these artists’ voices. Kepta Ombati, a human rights defender, provided a space for the first SWAN festival event at the time. It is important to note that it was difficult to secure a venue for the festival at the time due to the prevailing turbulence.

Over time, the day has been celebrated each year with different themes and colours. In 2024, it was celebrated in two phases. The first phase revolved around solidarity with the Palestinian cause and especially those in Gaza where the Israeli aggression has been reported to have caused the death of over 32,000 Palestinians  and about 1 million internally displaced. There was also an art exhibition by Palestinian artists which showcased the art of weeping during war. Kenyan artists gave solidarity statements, held conversations on the plight of Palestine and its artists in general then held a candlelight vigil in honour of the plight of Palestinians calling for a ceasefire and a permanent end to Israeli aggression in Palestine.

On the second day, there was showcasing of different forms of art by the women ranging from music, beadwork, sculpting, pottery, acrobats, traditional dancers, paint work, modern art work and theatre. There were also intergenerational conversations and mentorship sessions. Practitioners of the culinary arts also showcased their skills. The women in attendance spoke and encouraged each other on how to use art as a tool for socio-economic liberation while eschewing dependency. In the conversations, one of the artists who does cultural dance curation with a group of women from the slums recounted how she got a stroke but continued dancing with the support of her fellow women despite her condition, a powerful example of art transcending barriers.

Why don’t you join us for the next celebration of women in the art? In the meantime let us remember, that there can be no revolution without the total liberation of women and that art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. Creativity takes courage!

 

* Sefu Sanni, a woman in arts

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