“Chanting to the Moon” by Peter Ray Mwasha
Tanzania is a land filled with stunning imagery and lush, vibrant color; it makes perfect sense that many guests choose to remember their trips with local artwork. One of our favorite artists working in Tanzania today is Peter Ray Mwasha. Currently a resident artist at Gibb’s Farm, Peter has been painting since he was a child, living in the far north of Tanzania, near Kilimanjaro. Recently, we took the opportunity to chat with Peter about what inspires him and his beautiful works of art:
What first drew you to painting?
As a little boy, I always loved colors. Even in primary school, back in Kilimanjaro [region], I was always sketching and painting images of my surroundings. I guess that’s where my art journey began.
How did you end up pursuing art professionally? Did you start out in another career before becoming a full-time artist?
There were times when it was hard to keep my art alive. In secondary school, I joined a very small group of artists in my class, and we would think and talk and share what we know about art and creativity with one another. But afterwards, I studied to be a plumber and boiler mechanic in Moshi [Peter graduated in 2004] because my father wanted that for me. I listened to him and went to technical school, instead of following through on my wish to go to art school. But I never gave up on my art.
“A Song of the Moon” by Peter Ray Mwasha
What are some of the images that inspire you and your work?
My art is inspired by, and depicts, Africa and all the beautiful things in it—the culture, the people, love, music, traditional Maasai dances and ceremonies. In Swahili we call it Africa kabisa, which means “absolutely African.” Beyond my paintings, I also work in my uncle’s small wood workshop in Dar es Salaam as a small-scale carpenter and carver. There, I create everything from crafts, wooden gift boxes, and hotel decorations, to wooden frames and sculpture mounts. That work is very different, and seems like an entirely separate career to me.
What stories are you telling with your art?
My art tells the story of African culture, especially the culture of the Maasai tribe of Northern Tanzania. I am connected to the Maasai through my ancestors, and I use my art to show how important is to respect elders, to listen to what they teach us, and to stay true to our roots. For example, one of my paintings is called babu, which means “grandfather” or any older person considered to be a kind and wise teacher for the upcoming generation. That painting celebrates the role of elders.
“Babu” by Peter Ray Mwasha
What’s your favorite thing about painting?
The point where everything comes together and you realize you’ve made a real work of art. It’s hard to put my finger on, really. I also love bright colors and interesting textures. Those are maybe a little easier to explain! [laughs]
How long have you been artist-in-residence at Gibb’s?
I have been in the artist-in-residence program for five years, but I’m not there full time; an artist is invited to the farm for three months, then he or she will leave so another artist can show his or her works, too. Sometimes we artists stay and work together on the farm, which is special, too.
Can travelers visit your studio and purchase art?
Travelers are most welcome to visit the Kiota art studio [at Gibb’s] to share stories, experience the art, even paint if that is their wish. And of course I’d encourage all of them to support local Tanzanian artists by purchasing some pieces!
“The Roots III” by Peter Ray Mwasha
What else would you want people to know about you and your art?
I would like people to know that art is life and there is life in it. People should not hesitate to make art; paint it out and share it. I also want people to know how excited I am to meet them and talk to them about my art, or about anything at all!
What should people know about art in Tanzania?
The Tanzanian art community keeps growing, and there are so many people with different talents and skills. I wish Tanzania could support art and artists better. I know I keep growing and improving, discovering new techniques and trying new things, and growing more confident in my work. I love my work, and I want people to know how much beautiful art is being made in Tanzania today!