He turned down a lucrative job offer to teach at a university for his love of art.
When Gerard Motondi became a primary school teacher 30 years ago, he knew there was more to him than standing in front of a class to pass knowledge.
He had a talent, a big one, and he was not going to sit on it. Thus, he enrolled in a bachelors degree followed by a masters in fine art at Kenyatta University in 2013.
When he got a PhD from the same institution in 2016, many asked him to consider teaching at the university. But the 52-year-old chose to remain with Asumbi Teachers Training College in Homa Bay County, where he teaches creative art.
But why did he turn down a better paying job at the university? He wanted to pass down his skills to many, and he felt a university class will limit the number of students in his class.
“The more the number of students I teach, the more I promote art in society. Here, I teach more than a hundred students but lecturing in a university will restrict me to only five students in a semester,” says Motondi.
He believes art was started by God and should be passed down from one generation to another.
“When God created human beings and other creatures, he marked the beginning of art. Ignoring art is like fish assuming water does not exist,” he says. The work of his hands, his creations, can be felt outside the class, beyond the fence of Asumbi, even beyond Kenya’s borders.
Motondi is a recipient of the prestigious Head of State Commendation (HSC) awarded by former President Mwai Kibaki in 2011 for his sculptures. He has represented Kenya in international fine art symposia, and his monuments of Kenya’s heroes can be found all over the country.
In 2008, he represented Kenya and won a gold medal at the Beijing Olympic Fine Art.
“I did well on behalf of our countrymen and the torch I was awarded is with the State Department of Culture,” says Motondi.
He has also represented Africa in art fairs in India, US and Dubai in 2007 and is the organiser of the African Stones International Sculpture Symposium in Kenya.
For his work, Motondi prefers granite stones, which he considers more durable.
“A monument made of granite can last for more than 200 years,” he says.
Some of his work can be found at Nairobi’s Uhuru Gardens and Rosslyn Academy, Gigiri, and at the National Museums of Kenya headquarters.
Asumbi TTC Principal Dr Maurice Ndolo says Motondi has helped nurture many students in art.
“Our core mandate as a college is to equip teachers with skills applicable all over the world. Our students emulate what he does,” Ndolo says.
Barack Fundi is one of the many art students trained and mentored by Motondi.
“Art provokes hidden talent. When I see someone painting, it makes me want to do it even better,” he says.
Yet his skills transcend beyond Asumbi into the local community. At Tabaka village in neighbouring Kisii County, a number of women are earning a living through art, thanks to Motondi.
But it was not always like this. The Abagusii culture did not allow women to carve stones, a lucrative venture in most parts of Kisii. In 2011, Motondi began a campaign to enable women participate in stone carving.
He began by training five women. “I started with the five, as I wanted to change their mind set. While doing so, I incorporated their husbands and a few elders who finally saw the light and accepted that carving was a lucrative income generating activity even for women,” says Motondi.
The efforts of the five encouraged more women to form groups and learn how to carve from stone. In two months, 50 women had ventured into stone carving.
“I took time to train them. My aim was to boost the income of families by training women, for had for long been employed to only carry the stones, to carve them,” he adds.