I have always wanted to work in an African country to gain some experience in the continent since I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. However, since starting my studies at Harvard as an international student, I have mostly spent my time in the United States. My desire to work in a field amongst my many interests in the African continent grew over time. With this in mind, I applied for and secured a grant from the Harvard University Center for African Studies (CAS) for the Art School Africa Internship Program.
Art School Africa is a non-profit organization in the form of an informative web-based platform designed to assist individuals in navigating the art industry in South Africa, and wider Africa. It is primarily based in Cape Town, South Africa. However, the internship was to be completed in two parts, the first being in Cape Town, South Africa, and the second being in Accra, Ghana. I was very excited to go back to my home continent and contribute in a meaningful way to an industry often overlooked in the area. Many of my friends were a little confused when I told them of my summer plans since I study Applied Mathematics, yet I was going to intern for an art-based organization. I took pride in my decision despite being a quantitative student because I was taking advantage of Harvard College’s liberal arts approach across different fields of interest. While I primarily study mathematics, I am also on track for a language citation in Arabic, and I also write and recite Swahili poetry in college and away. I was very excited to be a research assistant for Art School Africa in the summer of 2023.
I traveled to Cape Town, and forgot that it is in the Southern Hemisphere, hence it was winter while it was summer in the United States. However, the winter temperatures were not as cold as Cambridge winters as the temperatures averaged 8°C to 20°C (46°F to 68°F). In Cape Town, I got to learn better how Art School Africa operates, and helped with some of its operations such as onboarding aspiring art practitioners on the web-based platform, assisting in making new collaborations with other art-focused companies, and importantly, laying the groundwork for the research that I would later do in Accra, Ghana. I also learned more about the vibrant art scene in South Africa, by visiting galleries and attending exhibitions by famous artists such as Zanoli Muhele. My supervisor, Mrs. Julia Buchanan Swart (the founder of Art School Africa) facilitated a meeting between myself, my fellow Harvard intern, and the famous fashion and interior designer, Gavin Rajah.
Cape Town is the perfect city, I must say. Its beauty is almost unreal. Right from when I landed, I could not help but admire the astounding scenery of the Cape mountains, which beautifully hugged beaches on the coast. My favorite video on my phone is one that I recorded while at Chapman’s Peak and enjoyed the view of the majestic mountains meeting the Atlantic. In addition to enjoying the scenery, I also immersed myself in the culture of South Africa. I ate lots of local foods such as springbok game meat, pap, and the famous braai. A visit to Cape Town is not complete without visiting the wine farms in Constantia and Stellenbosch. I made sure to visit both places to see some of the most famous and beautiful wine farms of South Africa. My four weeks in South Africa passed by faster than I expected, and it was time to go and completed comprehensive research of the art scene in Accra, Ghana.
Landing in Accra, I was immediately amazed by the warmer summer temperatures. Here, I visited institutions of higher learning in Greater Accra, from design institutes to private universities as well as public universities to conduct research on the attitudes towards the practice of the arts in the region. At the same time, we also visited local galleries and exhibitions. At the end of the research, my colleague and I authored a comprehensive research paper that shed light on the art scene in Accra and wrote recommendations to Art School Africa which would be helpful for it to expand its services to Ghana.
Just like in Cape Town, I immersed myself into Ghanaian culture. I enjoyed surveying the local cuisine and my favorites where Ghanaian jollof, banku and kenkey. I visited Jamestown and Usshertown, the oldest districts in Accra, and the famous National Mosque of Ghana. I was exhilarated to be in the country of one of my role models, the late Ghanaian President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and I visited his beautiful memorial not very far from the famous Black Star Square. I went to local restaurants which featured live Ghanaian music, and nothing made me feel prouder of our beautiful African culture. I was also privileged to be hosted by Dr. Sangu Delle, a Harvard alum who also is member of the Harvard Board of Overseers, for dinner in Accra. This was a manifestation of the wide network of Harvard alumni who are always willing to help other Harvard affiliates throughout the world.
This internship was a big learning experience as I had never gotten a chance to explore other parts of Africa before. Harvard made it possible, all in one summer. While South African culture and West African culture are very different from the East African culture that I’m accustomed to, I also experienced some similarities. I was able to appreciate the different cultures and natural sceneries of the countries. This also renewed my zeal to give back in the future to my continent, especially in increasing accessibility to higher education.