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Hands That Care

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It is very rare that altruism and art find a common meeting place.

We find both on the 22nd floor of a Sandton skyscraper, where businesswoman and philanthropist Saloni Wahi is hard at work.

There’s aesthetics everywhere in her bright, beautifully-appointed home – the paintings on the walls, the handcrafted pottery in the foyer, even the orange fruit basket she has made with clay.

Unflattering balls of clay turn into ebullient masterpieces in her hands. At this moment, by the kitchen counter, she is moulding what looks like a golf hat, “inspired by a Saturday game of golf”.

This yen to seek inspiration in everyday objects, tapping into her talents, be it pottery or golf, to create “templates” for her work, is perhaps what makes Saloni the purposeful aesthete she is – giving her all to art, and giving her art to all.

Over the last decade since she first became a “potter by chance” in Johannesburg – and it went from pastime to passion – she has made over 70 pieces of an eclectic range of ceramics she calls The Collective that are “often whimsical and light, identifiable by their intricate patterns and fusion of color”.

These contemporary creations will all be part of her exhibitions coming up – on November 9 in Dubai and January 8-9 at the Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi.

All proceeds from the sale will go to fund another passion Saloni holds dear to her heart – the ABN Education Trust set up in 2011 by her husband, Rakesh Wahi, the co-founder of the hugely-successful CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA brands.

As the Trust’s patron, Saloni has tirelessly worked to help the lives of the less privileged. And every pot she makes, no matter how arduous the process of creation, is for them.

In the living room of her home, she shows us Effervescence, a glazed work of art inspired by a paper cup, which took her a tenacious 15 hours to craft. She was at the gym one day holding a paper cup after a workout session when the idea hit her: why not translate it into ceramic?

“When the clay is not talking to you, you cannot make something that satisfies you,” she says, of her intuitive art. “It’s like doing yoga. Pottery stills your mind and is almost like meditation.”

Effervescence, Wahis work inspired by a paper cup, that took 15 hours to create. (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

The pieces are like her babies, she says.

“Except you don’t give your babies away, but for me, rather than possessing the piece, it’s the actual process of creating it, and sharing it that makes me happy. I am very passionate about the Trust, and pottery is my second passion, and it was sometime earlier this year that I said ‘why don’t I just combine these two passions’?”

Thus, the concept of “ceramics that care” was born.

“God has been kind to us, so I don’t want to create money from my art, but if I can create funds and use it for my other cause, then I would consider my mission successful,” says Saloni.

READ MORE: Going Above And Beyond

It is something she truly enjoys, as you hear her speak of the chemistry and science – and the infinite patience – that goes into each creation. No piece is like the other.

“I am very adventurous as far as clay is concerned. Pottery is a very loose word for what I create; some of my pieces have minute holes, almost 500-600 holes a piece.

“In fact, I stretch the clay, and push it to its limits. And very often my first teacher Charmaine, and Denise, my second teacher in Parktown North, would always keep a watchful eye on me as they knew that Saloni would always be up to something dangerous with the clay. So I find it works, and there have been instances where I have spent a minimum of four hours on a piece and after making it, it completely collapses but for some strange reason, it’s never put me down. I just start all over again… It makes you resilient towards life in a strange, bizarre way.”

Saloni Wahi at work. (Photo by Motlabana Monnakgotla)

When not in Johannesburg, Saloni continues her work in Dubai, where she has been based since 1989.

Originally from Delhi in India, Saloni moved to Johannesburg in 2007 after her husband, Rakesh, along with Zafar Siddiqi, set up the ABN Group, of which CNBC Africa and FORBES AFRICA are a part.

CNBC Africa is celebrating its 10th year, and Saloni has had a stellar role in its success, supporting Rakesh and the business in every way.

Living between their homes in Delhi, Dubai and Johannesburg, Saloni is always on the move.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to experience three different lives in one lifetime. And the three lives are so diverse – our life in India is completely in contrast to the life we live in Dubai, which is again completely different to the life in Johannesburg.”

Whenever she is in South Africa, her first ports of call usually are the orphanages the Trust supports.

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in India or Africa, children are the same everywhere. To me, giving back is integral to my being,” says Saloni.

Despite being a small business, and very conscious of its corporate social responsibilities, the ABN Group has participated in several charitable causes in sub-Saharan Africa since 2007.

The Trust gets its funding from the Wahi family, the ABN Group companies, Trans National Academic Group and through the efforts of Saloni. The Group’s Managing Director Roberta Naicker, along with other trustees, have worked hard to raise funds through various initiatives including ladies events, golf days, auctions and appeals to corporates and individuals who help the needy.

Saloni Wahi with a beneficiary of her Trust. (Photo supplied)

The group’s focus is three principal activities.

The first is to support orphanages and give opportunities to children in desperate situations for no fault of their own. The Trust mandated to support orphanages that were small and rudimentary and didn’t receive any government grant or corporate support.

When Saloni speaks about Thuthuzela in the township of Alexandra, you can tell this is an orphanage close to her heart. Through her diligent efforts, the Trust first gifted it a minibus in 2012 and then in 2014, helped to move it to a permanent home in Kelvin from “their one-room facility at the back of a local factory”.

“It is creditable how the founders and caretakers of the orphanage have worked tirelessly to help children who would otherwise have died or ended up on the street,” says Saloni.

READ MORE: Remorse And Rubble In Nepal

Over the years, through the Trust, Saloni has committed significant resources for children in need. The Trust is currently assisting Abangani Enkosini, another Day Care Center in Alexandra, and has provided it a daily soup kitchen, freezers, cupboards, clothes and books, and also waterproofed its facilities.

The Trust’s second objective is to provide bursaries to students, particularly women, for tertiary education including but not limited to financial journalism in universities such as University of Johannesburg and University of the Witwatersrand. Over the last six years, it has provided bursaries to over 30 students to complete their graduation, and has also provided support to the children of its own staff through bursaries for their university studies. Similar bursaries have been provided to students in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa.

The Trust’s third aim is providing internship opportunities to young Africans for invaluable work experience within the ABN Group companies. Over the last 10 years, over 250 internships have been disbursed by the group. Christina Mhundwa, a recipient of the ABN bursary, is currently in Germany working as a journalist for a leading news broadcaster.

Saloni’s support for all the work has come from the team at the ABN Group including Nola Mashaba, Celeste Meidecen, Thameshan Sooriah and Sue Gounden.

In addition, the Trust participates in other activities that resonate with the core values of the founders. One such was supporting an organization in Kenya working to get young girls off the streets to re-settle them from an existence of abuse into a dignified life.

“It was at CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards in Rwanda last year that I was introduced to Damaris Too, a successful businesswoman doing amazing work in Kenya. She was one of the contenders for the ‘Philanthropist of the Year’ award. I was so touched by her story – she basically worked with getting young girls off the street. It was very sad to hear that for want of a pretty dress or just a bag, these girls were led astray,” says Saloni.

Back in Dubai, Saloni got to work, creating a WhatsApp group, and mobilizing her friends and their friends to make donations in kind for the girls.

“I was hopeful I would get a few suitcases of assorted clothes and bags and shoes. But lo and behold, thanks to the power of social media, I had almost a container-load of stuff. The entire consignment was sent to Kenya, and since then, we have sent a second load,” says Saloni, proving a kind gesture can go a long way.

Philanthropy is not new for the Wahis. Hailing from an illustrious business family in India, Saloni says she has seen acts of kindness from a young age. Marrying into an equally-philanthropic family has allowed her to continue to do social good all her life.

“My great grandfathers had established charitable trusts in India and I have seen the family’s involvement in schools and hospitals in North India that benefitted children from disadvantaged families. Their work has outlived their time on earth… For me, as a woman, if the work my husband and I are doing is carried forward and built on by our children, I would consider myself blessed. Both children have been involved with the Trust through their own contributions. Sidharth, our son, is a Trustee, while our daughter, Shweta, a young fashion designer, has raised significant funds through her own initiatives,” says Saloni.

Last year, in India, Saloni and Rakesh set up “a corpus for Class 4 employees at the National Defence Academy” and earlier this year, set up “a fund for caddies in Dehradun” (near the Himalayan foothills), as they are both “passionate about golf”.

“We set up a trust in the name of my mother-in-law [Shobhana Wahi], again in Dehradun. Wherever we get an opportunity, we always try and give back.

“You come alone, you leave alone. What you take along with you is your name,” she says.

Saloni’s mission for the next few years is to do as many exhibitions as she can across the cities she travels and lives in.

“I know in South Africa, a lot of people are doing good work, and if anyone has a charity event and is looking for pieces, I would be very happy to give my pottery, so long as I know the funds these pieces generate, are going for the right cause. I have set a very high target for myself,” says Saloni.

As we conclude our meeting, it’s hard not to ask Saloni how she manages to live in so many cities and call each of them home, to which, she laughs: “I have a non-conventional entrepreneurial husband, and just as I create pieces of pottery, his passion is developing people and creating businesses. I mould clay, he moulds people!”

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Health

Tasty Vegan Options: Consumed By Healthy Eating

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The restaurant market still hungers for healthy options. This entrepreneur is feeding that need, serving earth-conscious customers and gym junkies.  

Her desperation for a healthy meal fueled the fire for business.

Leigh Klapthor, 31, couldn’t find enough eateries that sold healthy food that was not bland, so decided to start her own.

“It is no fun to go out with friends and you are always the girl with the green salad,” she says.

“I wanted to find a way where being healthy is not such a chore and I also wanted for it to be affordable.”

Klapthor, who dropped out of a course in marketing communications at the University of Johannesburg, ditched a job in corporate marketing to pursue her passion for food.

A patron at Sprout Café. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

In 2017, she started Sprout Café at the Stoneridge Centre in Edenvale in Johannesburg with a loan she received from her husband’s business and money that was given to them as a wedding gift.

“Everybody underestimates what everything will end up costing [when starting a new business]. In my mind, I thought R150,000 ($10,588) would work. I thought I would get my shop fitting and everything done and in the first month we would be able to pay salaries with the money we make,” says Klapthor.

But she soon realized the unforeseen challenges faced by many entrepreneurs. She had to eventually pump in a capital of R350,000 ($24,706) to start the venture.

“So I had a couple of life lessons at the beginning. I had to end up using our savings but I didn’t mind having to do that because I trusted and believed in the vision.” 

But though she did, the banks did not because they often declined all her loan applications.

 “I think there are so many young black and enthusiastic individuals that have brilliant ideas and vision but the investment capital is not there. Though I do not have the capital as well to assist them, I would say keep going because the vision is greater,” Klapthor says.

Sprout Café offers health food, light meals, vegan food, and vegetarian and ketogenic diet food.

With her corporate marketing skills, she advertised her food on social media and gained a lot of traction.

“I want to create food on Instagram and people are like, ‘oh my God, I want to eat that’ and when they come into the store, it is the same deliverable they receive,” she says.

Sprout Café turns over R3 million ($211,677) annually and has 10 employees. 

After only two years of business, she has recently opened a second branch in the heart of the busy Moove Motion Fitness Club in Sunninghill in Johannesburg.

“There are people that are on specific diets and there is no one that is giving these people food. There is no one that is saying, vegan people want to be healthy too. They are making a conscious decision to preserve the environment and preserve their health and they are making these decisions but there is no one that is there to accommodate them.”

Klapthor says that the world is moving towards a plant-based lifestyle and she believes that many have recently caught on to that idea recently. 

Trend translator Bronwyn Williams of Flux Trends,  reiterates Klapthor’s views on how the world is adopting healthier habits. She believes that Generation Z is choosing good, clean fun the most.

“Yes, South Africa is not exempt from the global movement towards more locally-sourced and earth-friendly products and packaging,” Williams says.

However, Williams believes that because 64.2% of the South African population still lives in poverty, clean and organic food still remains costly for the majority of people.

“That said, unfortunately, earth-friendly consumer options remain a luxury that only the upper middle class can really afford to support and enjoy… certified organic, eco-friendly products tend to cost far more—up to 40% more than ‘regular’ packaged produce, it would be disingenuous to say that what the market wants is locally-sourced, earth-first produce when the majority of South Africans are struggling just to put any food on the table,” Williams says.

‘Every day, you should be able to eat a Sprout meal without having to feel any kind of guilt and shame,’ Leigh Klapthor says. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

Though Klapthor knows more people are opening healthy-eating establishments because they see that it is a trend, she believes that they need to be in touch with the reality of an ordinary person’s life and consider the cost implications.

“You can’t charge someone R150 ($10.59) for a Beyond Meat burger and expect her to come back tomorrow for the same burger. People are tight with their money and they work hard for it, they do not want to let go, for instance, of R500 ($35.29) in three days,” Klapthor says.

“We want to provide a healthy lifestyle, something that is consistent and that people can live through, and not just a treat-themselves-to at the end of the month. Every day, you should be able to eat a Sprout meal without having to feel any kind of guilt and shame.”

Obviously, it is a concept that has worked and keeps her business healthy as well.

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Opinion

Enabling Healing For Rape Survivors

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On this day in 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1820 declaring that rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute “a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to Genocide”. For countries such as Rwanda, which have experienced conflict and its devastating consequences, this was a major step forward.

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi saw over 1,000,000 men, women and children slaughtered in a 100 days. Of those who survived, many endured torture and public humiliation, often in the form of rape and sexual assault.

Between 250,000 and 500,000 women were systematically raped, with the additional intent to infect them with HIV. The result was, approximately 67 percent diagnosed as HIV+, and an estimated 20,000 children born of these mass rapes.

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Twenty-five years later Rwandans have worked hard to pick up the pieces, and continue efforts to build a country its citizens can be proud of. A healthy foundation is now in place, upon which future generations will stand, to shape an increasingly secure, peaceful and prosperous nation. Slowly but surely, Rwanda is healing.  

For survivors of rape, who in many ways carry a double burden, the journey of healing is more complex, filled with pain that most struggle to keep buried and forgotten.

Beyond the physical damage they suffered, these women and girls – and in some cases, men and boys – continue to suffer from severe mental wounds that stripped them of their dignity, leaving them feeling like lesser human beings.

For true healing to occur, we must create and promote a conducive environment where survivors can live dignified lives, unbound by crippling thoughts and the helplessness brought about by their ordeals.

Efforts must be pooled from the highest levels of leadership to the grassroots, to establish safe spaces that allow each victim and survivor of rape to heal, reconnect and reintegrate with the right support and at their own pace.

Even more so, as survivors have to live next to perpetrators, as many of them remained in their original communities; while the most notorious, will soon be returning to their homes, after serving their sentence.

In my experience working with survivors of rape in Rwanda, I have seen first-hand the miracles that can occur when survivors’ individual healing journeys are not brushed away, forced or ridiculed, but simply enabled.

One particular story stands out in my mind, is that of Suzanne, a woman I met through my work with ABASA, an association of genocide and rape survivors.

READ MORE | Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

During the Genocide against the Tutsi, Suzanne, who was 58 years of age, was raped for several days by militia, some of whom were her neighbours. Suzanne suffered severe injuries, both physical and mental. When I first met her, she had no control of her bodily functions, let alone her life.  She had been in and out of hospitals, with no lasting solution to her medical problems.

My organisation, Imbuto Foundation, supports the women of ABASA by facilitating their access to HIV treatment and providing psychosocial and financial support. We ensured that Suzanne received quality treatment and surgery at a reputable hospital, and stayed close to her throughout her recovery. As result, she is now a strong and healthy citizen, whose experience of the Genocide is no longer a physical mark, left for all to see.

Every individual story like Suzanne’s, and that of thousands of Rwandan women raped publicly, and taken to what was known as ‘Maison des Femmes’ only to be abused by countless men, underline the vital importance of recognising rape in conflicts as a weapon of destruction.

More than that, it is a call to the international community to:

  • take bold steps by bringing to justice those who are still on the run;
  • mobilise solidarity, responsibility and resources to enable the healing and reintegration of rape victims.

For Rwanda, especially during this Kwibuka (Genocide Commemoration), a quarter of a century later, it is a call to acknowledge survivors of rape as true heroines and heroes of our history, and to strip rape of its cruel power.

For all of us, men and women, it is a call to become part of the solution.

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This is an opinion piece by First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, looking at the importance of enabling healing for rape victims and survivors, in line with the anniversary (19 June 2019) of UN Security Council Resolution 1820, recognising rape as a war crime.

First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame. Picture: Supplied

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Arts

‘There Will Always Be A Need For Live Art’

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South African dancer Mamela Nyamza revived a 30-year-old dance festival to help local artists connect with the rest of the world.


An eight-year-old graces the pulpit of her hometown church capturing the attention of the congregants with her nimble dance moves. Little do they know she would go on to dazzle audiences on some of the world’s most prolific stages.

As the deputy artistic director of the South African State Theatre, it all still feels like a dream for the award-winning contemporary dancer who never imagined her passion for dance would lead her here.

Mamela Nyamza owes it all to her childhood.

Your upbringing will always find a way back to your artistic life.

From running in the rain to dance classes, with a leotard packed into a plastic bag, to curating one of the biggest dance festivals in South Africa, Nyamza is hoping to transform the art form in Africa.

Sitting in her office in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, she understands the responsibility of her position.  

“I know how important it is for people to come and showcase their work in this theater because I came from a space where doors were not opened for me. The space I come from has taught me a lot as an artist and it has actually made me the artist I am today because everything I do will always reflect  that life,” she says.

She hopes to merge the line between art and life by curating the Dance Umbrella Africa Festival.

The festival, formally known as Dance Umbrella Johannesburg, which downed its curtains in 2018 due to lack of funding, has been revived by Nyamza to incorporate a continental approach towards contemporary dancers.

She took it upon herself to revive the program that gave her an opportunity at the start of her career.

“I cannot sit back and watch a festival that groomed many artists in this country close in front of me while I am watching. If it was not for Dance Umbrella, I would have never performed internationally,” she says.

For Nyamza, the festival brought programs to South Africa which opened a gateway for artists to connect with the rest of the world, allowing them to showcase their body of work on international stages.

Institutions that support the dance community are needed to assist both aspiring and established dancers, she says.

Do I Look Pretty by Chandré Bo, a dance theatre production that explore the notion of ‘pretty’. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

“You cannot do it alone; you need these structures to help you help others. Our role here is to serve the patron, the audience, the artists and everybody.”

The position seemed daunting to her, at first, but she soon realized it was time for change in the industry.

An office job has not tethered the artist’s free spirit.

 “I was not going to leave the industry; it is all about leading the industry. I still go out there and work, I still practice my art and I feel, as an artist, I have done Mamela a lot. So why am I still holding on to me? It is time to give back. Right now, being here, I feel like there is a reason for being here. I feel like this is a calling.”

Heeding the call to make a difference, Nyamza, who is dressed in African print, recollects the challenges she faced when she turned her hobby into a profession.

As a black woman, taking it on as a career was the hardest part, thus turning a love into a strange relationship.

Being the only black woman in her dance classes made her feel like “the other” at all times.

“It [ballet] was not accepting me as a black woman. It made me  interrogate [ballet] as an artist. Hence, most of my work will always go back to ballet,” she says.

“I was deconstructing something that I know. I was not just talking about ballet, I was deconstructing something that did not accept me as a black woman or did not accept my body.”

This interrogation is reflected in most of her work.

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Surprised by the high number of artists in their early 20s who showcase their work at the State Theatre, Nyamza applauds the transformation that has made these spaces accessible since her early 20s.

A kind of access she had to fight for. 

“Right now, my son does not know that we used to walk while it was raining to go to ballet classes. We were not dropped off in cars. It was not easy, it was something you did for love and that is when passion is created. Because of the different times that we come from, it took me years to even put my work at the Artscape [Theatre Centre in Cape Town]. You always look at these differences and not that you are against them, you always just say ‘wow, this is great’.” 

As much as there has been the incorporation of digital innovation to ease access to dance and performance, the need for live theater will always be imperative for her.

“There will always be a need for live art because it touches different parts [of us]. When something is live, you remember the liveness of it, the body of it. With technology, you can see it [a performance] there and also have it here, it is easy access but a live body is not easy access and that is what people forget. You have to go out there, pay money, support and watch it live because that live memory stays with you,” she says.

“As artists, it is hard for us to say, ‘here’s my DVD’ and as artists who perform outside of the country, people ask ‘can you show me something online?’. I tell them that they can see me online but it is not the same. It is never the same. It is all about liveness and experiencing it live.”

The upside is that it opens the window of opportunity for African artists on international stages, which, at times, may pose cultural barriers.

“By being a solo artist, it has been easy for international people to get the whole history of South Africa from one artist and you don’t have to bring the whole [cast of] 80 people to talk about the story. It is easy because you are in South Africa, you are South African. Your work is South African. How you do it is up to you because you are an artist and as an artist, you can interpret your work in any way.

“When showing your work, there is already the assumption that you are from Africa and you need to do celebratory work or ceremonial work and if you don’t do that, there is a question of, ‘I did not accept that from an African woman’. There are so many ways people engage with us as artists coming from Africa,” Nyamza says.

At times, it was easier for men to succeed in the industry, she says.

“When we came as women, we didn’t entertain too much. There was an element of [not all men, some], ‘we are men showing six packs and the body’ and actually giving exactly what the other wants to see. With women, we came with issues that needed to be interrogated and debated. We provoked things and sparked some conversations that will stay with people. We were talking about things that are happening in our country and became the window to our country.”

Do I Look Pretty by Chandré Bo at the State Theatre. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

But back home, the locals are still grappling to understand the art industry, leaving artists like Nyamza with a greater popularity beyond African shores. Locally, she feels the audiences are not as supportive and open to attending live shows.

“At home we don’t have that culture of knowing what is good and understanding our own artists. It is not something our people have grown up with. Much like me studying dance was questioned as ‘what else do you do?’ Nobody will know that I am an international artist. They know us internationally but at home they will ask ‘who is Mamela?’ Not that I want them to know. I am an artist, I just do my work and it speaks for itself.” 

Looking at the growing interest for ballet-dancing among black people in South Africa, Nyamza argues that ballet is moving away from the traditional format of only wearing pink tutus and has become more accessible, thus allowing locals to make their own interpretations of the artform. However, the lack of continuity concerns her.

“I always see young black kids doing ballet and then later on there are none. Where are they? What happened to them? But then again, I think this situation is because we don’t have many black female dance teachers who these kids can relate to and aspire to be.” It is a fact most artists and art managers agree on.

The Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative managing and artistic director PJ Sabbagha says the arts are socially marginalized but it is the artist’s responsibility to change the way it is viewed. Through exposure in his community-based work in Mpumalanga, Sabbagha has realized that an appreciation for the arts is increasing.

6×7 Feet Dimension, named after Nelson Mandela’s prison and the size of the bedroom in Winnie Mandela’s house, is a play about the love letter they wrote to each other. Picture: Gypseenia Lion

“The art is very alive in communities and so is dance, in various forms. We still live in a world where people don’t view the arts as being real. They view it as a hobby or part-time activity. It partly has to do with the way art has positioned itself and also the way society views the arts, it has, basically, never really been seen as a real economic driver with potential for social change.

“The older generation doesn’t see how people’s lives are impacted through the arts. They can earn an income and that it can be a meaningful career or that it can benefit society. Although, things have changed, the economy in the country does not help; there is less investment in the arts because we need to save failing infrastructure,” Sabbagha says.

These are nagging concerns to answer. Because the work of many unknown artists is based on personal impact and interpretation, it becomes challenging to assess what art in small pockets of the world mean to those viewing it. Perhaps, the greater question is, what can be done to get people interested enough to attend an art show? Should it all lay at the feet of artists or should people be more proactive about who and what they view?

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