Independent Artist, Kiserian, Kenya
Lecturing: Batik Art and the Massai Culture
Host: Whitworth College, Department of Art, Spokane, WA
c/o Dr. Gordon Wilson
August 2000-May 2001
Kenyan Scholar-in-Residence Nicholas Sironka's vibrant artwork and Maasai heritage were sources of delight and wonder to his students and colleagues at Whitworth College in Spokane,
Washington. Heads never ceased to turn when the 6-foot-5-inch artist strode across campus, sometimes dressed in the colorful attire of a Maasai warrior.
His luminous, color-saturated batiks, which reflect Maasai values and traditions, also fascinated the Americans who saw them, and were wonderful talking points for explaining Masaai and African culture.
Sironka, a well-known artist whose work has been shown throughout Africa, and his wife, Seleina, who is an artist in her own right specializing in Maasai beadwork, spent an academic year at Whitworth. He taught batik art and Maasai culture, in addition to creating and exhibiting his artwork in the college's Koehler Gallery and in other galleries around the city.
"It was a wonderful year for us," he states. "The students, the faculty, the administration-everyone-made us feel welcome. I was especially impressed with the students who not only proved to be industrious and respectful, but have made me see American students from a different perspective."
Outgoing and generous with their time, the couple had a significant impact on the wider Spokane community. They lectured and gave slide presentation workshops to over 20 elementary and secondary schools and colleges, and he conducted several master classes in batik as well. In addition, they made presentations at James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia.
Their involvement with other institutions in Spokane led to a proposal by the Spokane Falls Community College that Sironka make arrangements to bring a Maasai dancer to their annual March celebration of "African roots." The event was an instant sell-out and a number of other schools and groups requested that the dancer and Sironka visit them, too.
"The performance was very well received," he states. "Many of the students and children had only heard of the Maasai in tourist advertisements. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for them."
Nicholas Sironka's impact did not end when he left Spokane. He initiated a student study tour to Kenya, and in January 2002, a group of faculty and students from Whitworth College visited various parts of his country.
"Hopefully this will translate into many other exchanges in the future. I am seeking to establish relations between Whitworth College and Kenyan universities and colleges," he says.
In addition, he has undertaken the establishment of a scholarship fund, housed at Whitworth, to sponsor an outstanding Maasai high school girl or boy to go to Daystar University in Kenya, and
during the duration of his/her studies, come to Whitworth for a period of time to expose the Maasai student to American culture. A student from Whitworth would go to Daystar at the same time.
"As a Maasai, I have always wanted to give back' to my people, and at the same time, enhance life for the Maasai," Sironka explains. "Nothing seemed more appropriate than the establishment of a scholarship fund."
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