Painting to Help the Ik

Nyx Observer Interview

By Elizabeth Kameo
The Weekly Observer Newspaper

Thursday,  April 21-27  2005

A World Beyond Us, Little Hunter , My First Noel.

Not book titles but descriptions of magnificent paintings. Paintings about people from a tribe many Ugandans have never heard of, the Ik. The paintings line up the walls of a corridor-gallery at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel. They depict the Ik in various aspects of life: an adult male Ik , a young boy getting ready for the day , and a mother who has just given birth.

In various writings, the Ik are described as “dying out”, or “almost forgotten”, which all suggest nothing but gloom for this little- known tribe. But these paintings show otherwise. They show a tribe of lively people going about their chores and trying to cope with their problems, and so do the stories told by the artist behind the paintings.

In November last year, Nyx Martinez, a Filipino volunteer , traveled to the north east , past Karamoja, to the edge of the East Timu forest bordering Kenya, to visit and live with the Ik for a week.

‘The visit is by far my most memorable experience yet. I believe that God gave me the ability to paint and holds me responsible to use the talent for the good of others, and express to the world the oft-hidden beauties that lie therein,” she says.

Born to Christian missionary parents in Manila, Philippines, in 1981, Martinez started drawing when she was three.

She grew up traveling in India, Thailand, and Malaysia, and all over the Philippines.

“I can’t remember when I couldn’t draw. My grandfather was a painter and painting is really a gift God gave me. I feel I have to use it to give back to God and give back to the unfortunate people and communities,’ she says.

Martinez uses a dark background to bring light to the stories of the Ik in her paintings. She uses an extraordinary medium-oil pastels on a felt canvas. The result, work so excellent, that it beckons to passers by and will, perhaps, beckon to more people to raise money for the charity.

The Ik are a hunter-gatherer tribe of about 40,000 people located in a small area of Kotido  district in Karamoja. They are an acutely marginalized community sandwiched between Turkana and Karimojong, both of whom are known for their cattle-raiding lifestyle. As a result the Ik do not own any livestock and live high in the mountains overlooking the rift valley. Locally they are most known for the use of wild honey, which they sell for a small income.

In a bid to raise awareness of their plight through her paintings, Martinez combines painting and prose to create stunning portraits of the Ik. She hopes to raise enough awareness through her exhibition to help the Ik people whose problems are vast.

“Due to their remote location, the peaceful farming people are not only fighting hunger but constant fear caused by insecurity stirred by the activities of their immediate militant neighbours, the Ugandan Dodoth and the Kenyan Turkana. More importantly the Ik are fighting for their identity as a unique people with a unique history and language,” she says.