Art, Culture, and Human Dignity

We as the young people at the World Youth Alliance urge the society to embrace our culture because it gives us a sense of belonging and gets its  foundation from human dignity; it also plays a major role in impacting our understanding of human dignity on an individual and societal level: Provides integral human development – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development, Impacts the growth of society, Fosters a deeper understanding of the human condition, Instills an experience of beauty, purpose, and vocation in youth.

We ask ourselves what is art? We should always begin from culture which art emanates from. Art is a large part of culture and it is one of the earliest expressions of culture each being distinct in our vast number of ethnic communities in Kenya and generally the entire African continent.

Understanding Culture

Culture is a people’s way of life which can be exhibited through beliefs, customs, and art.It varies in each society, group, place or time. It consists of manmade ideas that give us a sense of belonging and helps us to organize our social groups. Terror Management Theory by Jeff Greenberg suggests that culture is a series of activities and worldviews that provide humans with the basic for perceiving themselves of worth in the world. Culture is used as a symbolic marker by ethnic groups to distinguish themselves visibly from others in certain ways such as body modification, clothing, and jewelry and is divided into two broad categories; material culture and non-material culture. Material culture is made up of physical expressions of culture that include art, technology, mode of dressing and generally architecture. Non-material culture includes the intangibles things such as philosophy, beliefs, traditions and values.

The primary function of art is to objectify our feelings so that we can contemplate and understand it and also helps us to understand the world around us. Art is imaginative skill applied to the representation of the natural world and expression of feelings, ideas, and thoughts. Art plays major key roles in the society there include art as a form of entertainment for example through video games and music, art is a mode of communication through which people express their ideas and emotions it speaks to us various thoughts, art for social courses- art has been used to impact society positively by speaking against social injustices and also promote peace and unity in the community.

My experience with culture

Jewelry making for me has been the art that expresses my cultural background since I was young. As a child, you would expect your mom to bring candy when she is just from work but from my house it was different she used to bring beads for us to make bracelets, necklaces, and anklets for our own use and sometimes we used to them as gifts to our visitors. My siblings and I would complain sometimes until my mom shared a story of how jewelry making has been a tradition in our community that was passed down from one generation to another, this became a norm for us until we went to boarding school.

After I was done with high school before I joined university I had some much free time which was mostly spent on making beads but more advanced ones this time around. When I joined the university, my friends would ask me where I got me my jewelry from because they liked it and wanted to purchase them that is how I started making jewelry for sale. The business became booming when I started getting clients outside my circle of friends and I decided to brand my business naming it after my parents because they passed down this tradition of jewelry making. It has helped me express my ideas, feelings, and thoughts. It has become a bonding factor between my mom and I, for this reason, I would like to pass this tradition to my children.

I call the pen and paper my best friends; they act as shock absorbers and they do not complain when I scribble really fast on them expressing my feelings, emotions, and thoughts. I fell in love with poetry when I started to read other poets work, it spoke to me in many different ways and made me feel it is okay to express your thoughts in writing. I started writing my own poetry after I cleared high school, in university always attended poetry gigs and thereafter started volunteering in organizing poetry events.

I was looking for an internship opportunity online when I stumbled into World Youth Alliance. What drew my attention is Culture and made me read deeper on it because WYA appreciates art. I applied for the internship and I got the position.  During my internship at World Youth Alliance, I got a chance to organize an art event: Africa Arts forum. The event brings artist from all over Africa to show how art and dignity are related. The event was an eye-opening experience for me because I interacted with the artist especially the poets and spoken word artist and I realized it was time for me to move from just writing and take my work to the stage. I can’t wait to Africa Arts Forum 2017!

Cultural diversity makes our country richer by making it a more interesting place in which to live. Just think how boring jewelry would be without Kenyan, Nigerian, Ethiopian, South African or Indian beads.  Cultural diversity also makes our country stronger and better able to compete in the new global economy. People from diverse cultures bring language skills, new ways of thinking, and creative solutions to difficult problems and negotiating skills.

Written by Juliet, Chepkurui, a batch 1 2017 intern at the WYA Africa regional office.

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Read WYA’s cultural declarations and statements to learn more about the importance of art and culture.