Saturday 21 February 2009

The world was silent when they died - The Orphans of Nkandla

Strange, isn’t it, how sometimes you can sit on a fluffy pink cloud feeling like Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds because you’re being pampered and spoilt by friends and family, indulging yourself to the max with an abundance of food, wine, love and laughter when all of sudden you glance sideways and the fizz goes flat?

Out of the corner of your eye you’ve seen a chink of bright white light and when you turn round further you see that big door to the real world slowly creaking open and you feel the soft, cool fingers of reality touch your cheek. Instinct tells you that it’s time now to pull the release cord on your pretty parachute and float back down to earth.

Don’t get me wrong. Earth is good. Life can be beautiful. Look at N’tola and his mother as they walk back home after the harvest. Mama carries a big pot of freshly dug potatoes that she’ll cook to accompany the goat meat that Gogo gave them this morning. N’tola’s tummy is telling him that he’s hungry so he pulls at Mama’s hand to hurry.

Unlike so many children in Africa now, N’tola has a loving mother to feed him; to make sure that he is safe and warm. He has his Gogo, who sings to him and soothes him if he falls. In the evenings N’tola will sit on his father’s lap and listen to the deep, warm rumble of his voice. N’tola is lucky, but for other children, who live not very far away, life is like an earthquake. Suddenly, it can get all sharp and jagged and very frightening indeed. That is the other side of reality – the part that is not soft and cool, but fiercely piercing and sometimes almost unbearable

HIV/AIDS has taken more lives than the sum of all wars, all natural disasters, all diseases throughout the history of humanity. The little mountain kingdom of Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV/AIDS. 70,000 orphans. 15,000 child-headed families. Nkandla is not far from Swaziland.

Inspired by Dr Maithri Goonetilleke, who writes with such lyrical eloquence on his wonderfully illuminating and compassionate blog The Soaring Impulse, and from whom I learned about the 70,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in the tiny mountain kingdom of Swaziland, I decided that I needed to make my art more meaningful. To make what I do really and truly sing for its supper. Loud and clear.

As an artist, I’m often asked by people who are interested in my work for commercial purposes if I could please write an ‘artist’s statement’ to accompany any work that may be shown. You know the sort of thing; “My work has an iconic quality, drawing upon the narrative within. The subject matter highlights a tension in the landscape and immortalises the fleeting sparks.....”

My work is not professional enough, nor, frankly, is it good enough to warrant that kind of seriousness of intent, so my artist’s statement is about why I paint what I do, rather than a lofty expression of my philosophy, vision and the creative process. It’s just about how I feel in my heart:

My art is a tribute to the people we’ve met on our travels in Africa. People who have experienced bloody civil war, yet smile with a warmth that reaches the very heart of you. People who have lived under oppressive regimes, yet sing in soaring harmony. Those whose families have been desecrated during onslaughts of horrifying genocide, yet still reach out with love and forgiveness. Children whose eyes light up when given a pencil to take to their little school under the sparse shade of an acacia tree…..

That is why I paint. For me, it is a celebration of life and through my art I endeavour in some small way to encapsulate the essence, the spirit and the strength of the exceptional people I have been so very privileged to meet.

Now, having read about Maithri’s work while in Swaziland in 2006 – he is going
there again in April - and about his fellow medical professionals’ unceasing care for these little ones, I can at last show that my ‘artist’s statement’ really, truly means what it says by ‘giving’ my art to those exceptional people who inspire every brushstroke I make. My deepest thanks to Dr. Maithri and to the children of Swaziland for allowing my work to have resonance.

I’m selling Limited Edition Giclée prints of all my paintings
here, with 100% of the proceeds going to Maithri’s friend and colleague Dr. Joyce Mareverwa, Medical Director of The Baylor Clinic in Swaziland, who works so unflinchingly hard to save the lives of HIV/AIDS orphans in that little mountain kingdom in Africa. Please help her to help these little ones.

“What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give.”

P.D. James ~ Time to Be in Earnest.

**If you'd like to take a peek at the prints, just click the Armadillo Studio logo at the top of my side bar.**


ArtSparker said...

Just catching up here..You've done some beautiful paintings recently, and you are certainly engaged with the world.

Jinksy said...

I'm off to hunt around your blog to see whether you have left instructions as to how we can buy a picture from you...Fantastic idea...

Maithri said...


There are tears in my eyes,

And so much love in my heart for you,

Thank you for making the world more beautiful,

Your presence in this world gives me hope,


Beth Kephart said...

This is exceptional work (and thoughts behind that work). I am so very glad that you stopped by to read Anna's interview, so that I had cause to come and learn about you and your vision.

Thank you.

Beth Kephart said...

This is exceptional work (and thoughts behind that work). I am so very glad that you stopped by to read Anna's interview, so that I had cause to come and learn about you and your vision.

Thank you.

Cait O'Connor said...

There is a lot of love in this post.

How are you selling these pictures?

Anonymous said...

This work is absolutely beautiful, as is the cause and I'm certain that the artist is too! Bravo!

Lori ann said...

I know how you feel Tessa i know how you feel...

please can i say what Maithri said, i have to wipe my eyes now.

what can i give? can i do something too?

love, lori

Debra Keirce said...

Very touching, Tessa.

Val said...

a truly beautiful post - heart and soul; well done for all you are doing - you do make a difference!
AIDS orphans - we must do what we can for them.
Your paintings are so vibrant and powerful - I love the energy of the colours and the profusion of life in themx

Janelle said...

oh thanks for introducing us to inspirational. but also remember, your art doesn't need a point or a reason to be. it just is. its SO beautiful and SO you. and you are SO meant to paint. however you get there. thanks for sharing it with us. i love it. you colour the world with bright light. which it sorely needs. xxx j

Elizabeth said...

Please keep in touch with me as I would like to get a print when I return.
Staying in London with a friend who spent many years in Africa.
Mostly Nigeria and Zambia.

Angela said...

Tessa (and Dr.Maithri), what beautiful blogs. I will recommend you to anyone who looks for a picture. Please tell us how we can order them.
This video film was almost too much for me. But I know it`s true. Our governments should all see it, just this little film Tell me what I can DO, Tessa!

Linda Sue said...

I, too, am catching up- Your paintings send me into raptures! I went with Jinsky to search - I am thinking ,though, that your painings are all keepers and your walls are filled with lucious colour and wonderful slices of a beautiful Afrikan life...somewhere there it must exist... Your post is right on time- the seriousness of February and the glimmer of spring around the corner. I love your amazing blog- and you!

Yoli said...

What a beautiful and inspiring blog. I will add you to my blog roll. How can I buy a print?

Renee said...

Tessa what a hard post to read. Maithri is like a modern day saint, isn't he?

Make sure when you send mine you put an extra kiss to the picture.

I ordered the Sunday one, it was a difficult choice.

You have done the right thing Tessa. I love people who put action behind their words.

Love you.


Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

OMG how both beautiful and moving. This really pulls at my heart strings. We think sometimes, " Out of sight out of mind." Sometimes we don't want to know about the hunger and death in the world as long as it's no effecting my life. It effects all of us in one way or another I think. I have supported missions and done sponsorships with my church and friends from Africa. I agree we need to do more than we are doing. I hope to give more this year then ever before because I am a lover of the human spirit. Thanks so much for sharing this beauty and pain with us. Thanks

Anna Lefler said...

What a beautiful, thought-provoking post, Tessa. You are an amazing person in so many ways...and it shows through your art and beyond...

BTW, thanks for visiting Beth Kephart's blog and reading the interview - I really appreciate that! Your comments meant a great deal to me.

Hope you had a great weekend and take care...

:^) Anna

Tessa said...

Thank you all, so much, for your deeply hearwarming comments. I just can't begin to tell you all how much I appreciate them - each and every one is like a wonderful shower of dazzling sparkles.

If you do decide to buy a print - to have a look, just click the armadillo studio logo at the top of my sidebar - please mention the title of the painting in the 'buyer's instructions' space on the PayPal form.

lauren gray | the haunted hollow tree said...

Tessa, you are SO inspiring! I will definitely being buying a print for the cause. For now, I have forwarded this blog post to all of those I am connected with on twitter.

Renee said...

Tessa do you know Karin from beyond words. If not, go click on her in my comments section on dreams sponsored by the letter l.

Then please go to her post I think it was february 18th and read the comments.

I think you are going to be in with us.


Renee said...

To dream that you are lost signifies that you are unsure of the direction you are going in life. It is a time of reflection and a change of goals. What once matters does not matter any longer.

Being lost in many ways signifies being found. You are coming full circle and finding yourself.

That will be 25 cents. xoxoxoxo

Every Photo Tells A Story said...

First of all, I think your work is more than "good" enough, it is absolutely beautiful, Tessa. And secondly, what you and Maithri are doing is both inspirational and admirable.


A Cuban In London said...

Your post is worth more than whatever the IMF et al have pledged to eradicate poverty in Africa and the rest of the Third World. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Cynthia Pittmann said...

I also read Maithri's blog...he is such an are you for your creative project that helps to raise much needed funds. It's wonderful when we can find a way to match our work with our highest vision of the world. My heart is warmed by your actions. I am reminded that this world has the power to change for good through your words and art.

Renee said...

You little sweetheart you. xoxoxoxoxo

david mcmahon said...

Yes, your art is more than good enought. Trust me.

Karin Bartimole said...

HI Tessa,
I came here with silliness and imaginary trips to the beach with you and Renee on my mind (fluffy pink cloud feelings, for sure!), and I'm solidly brought back to earth by your beautiful images and powerful message. I applaud your generosity of spirit and work via the donations you will be making.
Many blessings,

Hana Njau-Okolo said...


This is an amazingly powerful, empowering, beautiful gesture of love. It will take a minute to make a selection from one of your prints - they are all so beautiful!

Mama Shujaa

The W.O.W. factor! said...

Oh Tessa...
This is exactly why I fell in love with your blog, your artwork and your words!
I knew you had a deep love and passion as it is illuminated through your work!
You are these children's...Faerie!
And bless your warm and giving heart!!!!!!!
This world needs more like you!

Dave King said...

Salutary - but almost seduced by the lovely pics!

Sarah Laurence said...

Tessa, David McMahon@Author Blog (commented above) listed this post as one of his posts of the day. Well deserved! Wonderful to see art going to a good cause and a moment where passion, creativity and compassion become one. I’m glad David flagged this post because I’d missed it. I’m too sick (just a bad cold) to focus well. This post made me feel better. Thank you!

Sandi McBride said...

I wish we could save all the homeless children of the's a sin to let one child go hungry enough that you can see their little bones. Lovely post.

Marites said...

Tessa, Your works are quite beautiful and has a lot of heart. The video was truly heartbreaking for me and I truly hope and pray that those boys are being helped right now.

karen said...

oh tessa, made me cry! x

Anonymous said...

My work is not professional enough, nor, frankly, is it good enough to warrant that kind of seriousness of intent, so my artist’s statement is about why I paint what I do, rather than a lofty expression of my philosophy, vision and the creative process. It’s just about how I feel in my heart:

Renee said...

Tessa can you go check out my post today.

Love Renee xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

I am so glad to have found your blog... I got it from Renee as she posted your blog~ for us all to take part in.
I feel so fortunate that I live in a first world country. I am grateful everyday.

2 years ago I went to TJ Mexico and helped a group called "El Nino" We traveled through the back country of TJ. Helping old people that lost everything, going to orphanages. It has been the most powerful trip I have ever taken.

Thank you so much~

Sarah said...

Hi Tessa,
I am visiting after reading Renee's post and just wanted to say how impressed I am by what you are doing and by your words.
Your beautiful paintings will help.
Sarah :)