Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Trust in times of chaos

"Chaos is what happens when you're ready for a big change! Let the Universe do its work and #Trust"
— tweeted by The Daily Love

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Alien’s Burden

For about the past 10 years of my life, I have lived outside my homeland as a categorical foreigner. This period has coincided with what I believe are considered my formative years. I wonder what has been more integral to that moulding – my age or the fact that my sense of identity has been so tested by my whereabouts. One thing is for sure: this sojourn from the land of my birth and the continent to which I owe my passion, has made me realise what is most important to me, what I stand for and crucially, what my purpose in life is.

One could question whether it’s actually being away that has encouraged these insights or whether they would have appeared at the same time no matter where I was. There’s no way to confirm either way. However, there are some specific things that being a foreigner helps you to appreciate.

I was talking to my boyfriend, who has been a foreigner for most of his life, growing up in four different countries (before the age of 18!). However, here, in the UK, and in most of the world, his red passport deems him right at home. I on the other hand, have had some “interesting” times with the immigration authorities. At times, it’s worryingly been down to misinformation and miscommunication on their part! In my dealings with them, I have not once been made to feel welcome, as you can imagine, and have often felt like I’m begging to pay UK taxes. With my Kenyan passport, it’s almost the same story wherever else I want to go in the West (which I affectionately refer to as other people’s countries). No spontaneous weekend trips to France for me! Instead, months of planning and providing documentation in order to contribute to their economy.

So what would happen if tomorrow somebody offered me a red passport, with compliments?

The thing is this: that I experience the above difficulties in travel, reminds me of who I am. When I am reminded that I am different, I am challenged to fully appreciate that which makes me different. That I am made to feel like a parasite in foreign lands means that I cannot forget history, and how those same lands came to their current prosperity off the exploitation of mine. That these truths are avoided and ignored, I cannot take them for granted. That these are my observations, I am reminded of my responsibility for change.

I often joke and call myself an “alien”, wrought as that word is with implications of isolation and sometimes distaste. For me, that proclamation comes from a place of pride. I am happy to be who I am and welcome all that comes with it.

“When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
— from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Inroads to my Self, courtesy of art (and vice-versa)

As a new year and decade begins, I can’t help but take this abstract transition as an opportunity to commit to making some tangible changes in my life. I won’t label these commitments as resolutions because, though tangible, they are very open-ended: not the kind of things that I can tick off my list on December 31st.

Having faith to release the power of the Self
So I was thinking about letting artistic work speak for itself and having faith that it can alone speak volumes. I had a thought about how it seems that the most powerful art (and by “powerful” I mean that which resonates most strongly with the soul; that which is received like an old friend, as if it is instantly familiar and belongs; as if it is obvious and simple truth), is a reflection of the bare soul, the essence, of the artist. It is an amplication of their Self.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that process is so important in artistic production – that it is the artist’s education on their Self.

My reality
Desiring to spend more time this new year working on artistic works, I question why, although this desire has been one of the few constants in all my years, since I can remember, my attempts to fulfill it are never quite whole-hearted. Conclusion? The ultimate challenge has been this: I have not been open to, honest with, and actually gotten to know my Self enough to be able to amplify what is there in any meaningful and sustainable way! I believe that by committing to spend some time educating myself about my Self, by using the act of creating to journey from question to understanding, that artistic voice within me will be unleashed. And that the most appropriate mediums of expression will naturally emerge.

It all seems so obvious and indeed, writing has always been my most effective problem-solving tool. Having just read Marianne Hieb’s Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling: Learning to see and record your life as a work of art, I see again what I suspect, that the problem-solving toolbox can be expanded to include all forms of art.

The art of reality, revisited
Is amplifying one’s reality or the substance of one’s Self akin to reflecting that reality? Reading earlier musings about art as a conduit to reality, I find myself disagreeing slightly with the quote below:

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
— Bertolt Brecht

Art is a subjective interpretation; one’s perspective of reality. In the process, while recognizing, acknowledging, analyzing and understanding this reality, new shades of it emerge. These new shades exist as a palette that you can pick and choose from to create different narratives. And in this way I agree with Brecht that art can shape reality. Reality inspiring new realities. Amplification.

Art as both an insight into the reality which we can resonate with or at least recognize and a vision of how we might reshape this reality (for better or for worse, for one or for all!).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Defining Afri-love

Africa is in my veins … in my thoughts and in my actions. I don’t know how love for a continent is made. How the colours and rhythms from one far-off coast can resonate as loudly on the opposite side. How listening to strangers speaking a language I do not know (understanding is different for it often transcends linguistic boundaries) can bring sudden feelings of homesickness. How the rush of sights, sounds and smells, as I step out of a plane, has my being instantly relax in the knowledge: this is where I belong.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and it also teaches the heart a lesson about its self: about how it is made; about what dictates its pace; and what it requires for beating.

I used to think I was patriotic, I still do, but I believe what I was feeling deserved a different and more appropriate name. It transcends national borders – it goes back before the Scramble. It rises over the barriers of language for communication takes place on several planes.

Meeting people from around the world and sharing our common affinities for the continent has helped, over years, to formulate for me, a way to articulate that feeling I previously could not quite capture. I choose to name it Afri-love. Simple, says what it does on the tin and allows me to signpost the myriad expressions of that feeling that I observe, live and create. Naming is a powerful process – it allows one to lift up a thing, hold it to the light and study it closely. Naming can be dangerous too: it can limit the form and consistency of a thing. However, in this instance, naming is useful to me as an umbrella under which to formulate ideas and mobilize the kind of action that will expand itself. Afri-love breeding Afri-love.

And naming helps to create community. A community already exists but it is not always self-aware. The extensive take up of the Afropolitan idea/identity is proof that Afri-love exists in abundance. Its informal community of agents spread its beauty and energy across the globe, sharing good news about the continent; enlightening people about its diversity and cultural wealth; and destroying the barrage of misperceptions that exist within the minds of ignorant and “worldly” alike.

Perhaps most important is exchange. Bringing language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music to meet with the language, culture, art, knowledge, belief and music of other continents. Creating something new, powerful and relevant that heralds all of its constituent parts while casting a wider net of inclusion. Respect, fundamentally, running through it all.

Afri-love is about that respect for what came before (to avoid the use of that contentious term “tradition”), learning and taking forward what is still germane and beneficial to growth; leaving behind what is inappropriate and counter-constructive; drawing knowledge and inspiration from whatever other sources are available in our experience; and using our imagination, creativity and passion to make something new.

Something that reflects our individual histories and journies first. When we zoom out and look at the greater tapestry of which we are a tiny but crucial thread, the collective story emerges. In perhaps the most interesting, eclectic and spontaneous fashion yet.

Undoubtedly, the most conspicuous pattern is the energy that connects every person who feels Afri-love. It’s almost irrelevant where you’re from. That yearning to touch the ground, smell the soil and feel the sun’s embrace. To join the dance, both invisible and real. To love your brodas and sistas despite their weaknesses and bad judgement. To be that village that is concerned with the growth of every child. The village that hunts and gathers together and celebrates that collective action with a feast.

It may all sound quite utopian. Perhaps, the one truest sign of the presence of Afri-love is the optimism that we can make our vision a reality: Africa rising to realise its full potential*.

* Borrowing from the vision of African-led UK charity Stand Up for Africa.

Image taken at Kitengela Glass in Kenya, hence the cut-out.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The art of reality

Visiting the Walking in my Mind exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre renewed for me a lot of thoughts around the act of artistic creation and the psyche.

Who is it for?
Just as they say “write what you know”, indeed art is often an interpretation of the artist’s experience. It is a very courageous thing to turn inside out what goes on in your heart and mind. Is it self-indulgent or is it a profound honesty and pure form of communication? Or is it not about the viewer at all?

Yayoi Kusama
created the exhibitions iconic polka dot ’scapes. Explaining her work she states:

“My artwork is an expression of my life, particularly of my mental disease. My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings.”

Rather than hiding her disease from the masses, she has brought her experience of it to them. She has forced them to empathise and be, like her, “a dot lost among a million other dots.” Is there comfort in this anonymity? Is it more about reminding her of her likeness to her viewers rather than highlighting to them where she differs?

What is it for?
I believe that the process of creating art forces the artist to be fully present and self-aware. By confronting what is, here and now (or rather, there and then), one can work through it. “The only way out is through ultimately” sings Alanis Morissette. A significantly therapeutic exercise, it is cathartic in the least and evolutionary at best. Through making something physical or tangible you activate the transformative energy of creation in the psychological realm. In making, you give shape to (your, which is a part of wider) reality.

It brings me back to the idea of constructive selfishness. Only when the work is made for the self, will it be meaningful to others. Only when the artist is honest with him or herself will he or she be able to project truth.

What is it?
It follows that art does not merely replicate what exists but necessarily articulates a perspective or an idea. By doing so, it gives form to the subject in a way that is, and I am making up a word here, metasensory.

What I mean by this is that, the interpretation of a piece often requires more than one sense, even though the medium may indicate otherwise. For example, we assume a painting is for looking at. However a painting also stirs the sense of touch – whether you actually run your fingers across it or not. An installation compels you to consider your physical (and possibly emotional) relationship to it as well as engage your senses of sight, sound and/or smell.

It is subjective interpretation and its metasensory manifestations that enables the artist to move the work from the space of recording to the space of remodeling; reality inspiring new realities.

“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.
— Bertolt Brecht

Thursday, August 27, 2009

For the love of a city

I have truly fallen in love with all the cities I've lived in. Nairobi, New York, London. They have all had a distinct energy and personality that has resonated with me.

Nairobi: home, Africa, city under the sun, often lush and green, busy, people speaking my language. New York: Brooklyn, summertime, creativity unleashed in the most unexpected corners, my formative years. London: real, a mash up of people and activity, Brixton, Afri-love, SOAS, learning.

And now I find myself in a very different city and one that, a year ago today, I would not have thought I would live in. Not for any particular reason: it just did not cross my mind as a possibility. This marks a very different stage of my life. I found myself in the previous two cities I lived in because of the pursuit of further education. This time I moved for love and sanity, and learning the nature of a new city, not being a student, is a very different experience.

And I'm loving it. It is a slow process: on one hand I don't have the time reserves that student life affords and on the other, I know I'm going to be here for a while still so there's no rush. Let's call it my own slow movement.

I am always interested in discovering the cultural life of a city – locating the creative nervous system if you like. Rainycitytales is somebody that is really doing (us?) Mancunians a great service. If you ever visit this side of the country/world, check that site out for ideas on what to take in (sights, sounds, taste…).

Indeed it does rain a lot here but it also shines. A clear blue sky, bright light kind of shine that I don't recall as a regular feature down south in London. That's right, war of the cities begins!

Photo by tj.blackwell, showing the juxtaposition that Manchester is!

Friday, August 07, 2009

Birthday vows and congruent character

Around my last birthday, I made a vow to myself that, by the time I turned 27, I would be in a different place. A mental space different to the stressful, overly time- and energy-consuming one in which I lived. A place further along the path of realising the things I want for my life.

It is now a few days before that deadline and:
- I have changed my working arrangements
- I skipped town
- I live with a man who makes me incredibly happy
- The time and freedom I craved to pursue my passions is there for the taking (in practice, I have not yet fully disciplined myself in order to embrace this time and freedom. It has been interesting to learn that the acquisition of liberation too requires discipline).

One of the most significant things I have learned in this past year is that, articulating what you want is the most effective way of making progress towards getting it.

Sounds simple enough but, I have spent most of my life wanting so many different things and being unable to put them together into a plan that can be followed; a plan that I can do something about. Luckily I choose to view my experiences so far as having contributed somehow to a plan that was yet known to me (thank you retrospect). However, as of last year, knowing the direction I wanted to go, has been empowering in several ways:
- It wasn’t an end-point, merely a next step and so wasn’t too daunting and out of reach.
- It was vague enough not to restrict how I needed to progress towards it.
- It made clear where I didn’t want to be and thus the traps I needed to avoid.

In short, acknowledging a profound desire, that wasn’t spelled out in perfect detail, helped me to recognize and seize the opportunities that life presented; that were to help me move forward. Because I did not set out a regimented plan, I was able to be flexible. I did not use a tunnelvision approach which may have made me overlook unexpected opportunities. Instead, I was open to the signs and aids of the universe.

I am reminded of the Taoist teachings about the futility of striving,

And of one of my favourite mantras:
“By not trying to be, I realise that I already am.”

It is that powerful idea that, when we align ourselves with our rightful paths, the universe conspires to propel us along them. Everything seems to just fall into place. That once we mentally create space for this alignment, creation will rule.

On congruent character
This week I’ve been thinking about what vow I will make to myself for the next year of my life.

One thing that has come up a lot for me this year is values, in business settings and in personal ones. Indeed the barrier between those two worlds has crumbled for me in the context of values.

Values are uncompromising: they define us and all we do. It follows that they should not be switched off between nine and five. Surely to do so renders us impersonators – of our true selves and/or of others?

I went on an interesting Designer Breakfast some months ago. The topic of the particular session was looking at ways of working alternative to the traditional company structur, with a focus on partnership. Claudie Plen from Edge Thinking believed that key to successful partnership was an alignment of values, particularly the ones that are most important for each party concerned.

I recently went on a refreshing two hour walk with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years and values cropped up again. This time in the context of relationships and how a union between people with incompatible core values is essentially a dead-end.

All this talk of uncompromising values as first appears rigid and unrealistic. In life we often have to deal with people with whom we may not agree. However, keeping your values upfront can actually help rather than hinder. If everybody puts their values on the table, you can see where and how clashes may occur and you can then put measures in place to mitigate them. When you know what to expect, you can manage it better. That is, of course, if, despite the clashes, there is enough values resonance to make the partnership worthwhile.

Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes relationships expire. Acceptance of this fact has many-a-time eased my flow along that path the universe is taking me.

Here’s to 27!

“Everything that we have been looking for has already found us. It is already waiting within us.”
— Michael Brown