A Celebration of American and Kenyan Art Remarks by Ambassador Robert F. Godec

Wasanii, wageni waheshimiwa, mabibi na mabwana.

Hamjambo! Habari za jioni!

Karibuni nyumbani kwetu.

Thank you all for coming this evening.  My wife Lori and I are pleased to welcome you to our home and to this celebration of American and Kenyan art.

Art is a truly universal form of expression whose magical power transcends cultural differences.  Some of the earliest evidence of how human beings lived thousands of years ago comes from the art they left behind, on cave walls and cliff sides.  Whatever it was that stirred in the hearts of people then, and compelled them to express their vision of the world in art, has remained unchanged.

As Henry Ward Beecher said, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”  Art helps us understand ourselves and each other, build bridges among people, explore the world around us, and forge our common future.  It is an enduring symbol of our humanity and our creativity.

Tonight, you will see on our walls paintings by American artists including Theodore Waddell, Cole Carothers, Leroy Neiman, Frederick Hale McDuff, Reginald Marsh, Susan Pear Meisel, and Timothy Chapman.  These are great American artists, and their paintings illustrate much about America, as a people and a nation.  Their stories often parallel the Kenyan story.  For example, you will see Theodore Waddell’s painting of the Red Rock Buffalo, a bison that was on the verge of extinction in North America a hundred years ago.  This story is too similar to that of Kenya’s majestic elephants today.

And who can resist Timothy Chapman’s fanciful, wonderful paintings of zebras and giraffes?  These animals are part of Kenya’s rich heritage, and their depiction here is a testament to the imagination of the artist.  The exuberance of life, the wonder of life, the whimsy of life are sentiments that Lori and I hope echo throughout this exhibition.

We have these paintings in Kenya today through the Department of State’s office of Art in Embassies.  Established in 1963, Art in Embassies has played a vital role in building greater understanding across cultures by creating temporary and permanent exhibitions, sending American artists abroad, and producing a number of publications.  Art in Embassies’ exhibitions provide a sense of the quality, scope, and diversity of American art and culture, and serve as a platform to invite artists from other countries to join in a discussion of our similarities, of our values, and our shared goals.

For this reason, you also will see paintings tonight by Andrew Kamiti, Elijah Ooko, Kivuthi Mbuno and Tom Mboya, all wonderful Kenyan artists.  I would like to express my appreciation to them for coming and for exhibiting their work here.  There are many extraordinary Kenyan artists, whose paintings I would be honored to display in my residence.  Andrew, Elijah, Kivuthi and Tom are certainly among them.  They represent a diversity of artistic style, but also draw our attention to the issue of wildlife and conservation, much as Timothy Chapman’s paintings do.  Wildlife conservation is a top priority for the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and for me personally. Poaching is a central challenge of our time, as it threatens animals everywhere.

Our Mission is doing all that it can to support U.S. and Kenyan initiatives to protect and preserve Kenya’s natural wildlife heritage.  As just one example, President Obama pledged last year another $10 million in US assistance to anti-poaching efforts in Africa.  And, I was very pleased to sign a letter of agreement earlier this month committing $3 million of that – 250 million shillings – to the effort in Kenya.  Far too many elephants, rhinos, and other animals are dying at the hands of poachers, and unless the carnage is stopped, our children may not be able to see in person the very animals that have inspired our artists here tonight.  We must all be part of the work to conserve wildlife in Kenya and elsewhere. The incredible imaginations and great talent of our guest artists this evening remind us of our shared goal, our shared obligation.

I am proud to serve my country in Kenya and know that our ties, a complex web of political, economic, and cultural connections, grow stronger by the day.  That growth is thanks partly to the artists who are gathered here tonight, and also to the many and varied partnerships we have with the Kenyan people.

Lori and I would like to thank the talented artists for their contributions to this beautiful exhibition, and to the Art in Embassies’ team in Washington, DC for their assistance in organizing this exhibition.  We are delighted to share this Art in Embassies exhibition with you and hope that you will enjoy it as much as we do.

I would now like to invite Mr. Timothy Chapman to say a few words.  Timothy studied biology at university, which might be evident to anyone looking at his depictions of giraffes and zebras, and then later turned his focus to printmaking and painting.  His renderings of animals use humor, irony, and a surrealist sensibility that is brilliant and creative. His works take us to another world. A world of whimsy, of wonder, and of possibilities.  But it is available to us this evening.  We are honored to have him.  Please join me in welcoming Timothy Chapman.

Finally, allow me once again to express my profound gratitude to the four Kenyan artists who have put their work on display here this evening.  Each paints Kenya’s wildlife in an entirely different manner, which shows us how many ways there are to honor Kenya’s natural heritage.  Please join me in thanking Andrew Kamiti, Elija Ooko, Kivuthi Mbuno and Tom Mboya.Asanteni sana, na karibuni kwetu.  Please enjoy the evening.