Saturday, October 29, 2005


Miss Luna once again indulges my love for questionnaires…

10 Years ago..
Damn! Memory is not usually my strong point. Mine is highly selective and defiantly independent. 1995… New beginnings. I had just started high school. The satisfaction of having finished a chapter was soon thrown off balance by the shock of going from being the older ones at school to being the youngest. The seniors seemed so grown up and worldly (what a hoax!). My pals and I were causing havoc in the dorm, constantly getting in trouble for being loud and disorderly. My grand (ongoing) career of procrastination began about this time I believe. And being that the classroom was a minute’s walk away, I discovered the possibility of mornings! It was cross-country season, something that would continue to haunt me every September term for the next 5 years (which I now actually quite miss)…

5 Years ago...
New beginnings. About 2 months into uni in a strange land with even stranger people (and in art school, you can imagine!). Had the homesickness checked in? I don’t remember. My first winter was quickly approaching — that would be sure to do it! I was young and starry-eyed, confused, innocent, optimistic, excited, idealistic… I don’t think that much has changed ;)

1 Year ago...
New beginnings. I was about to start a new job, much-needed deliverance from my previous, stifling work environment. Also, I had just recently found out I had a hole in my heart and the two-week countdown to going under the knife was on!

Watched a film, read about film, wrote about film. Engaged in the usual Friday ritual of going to the bar with the girls and boys.

A few of my favorite things

5 places I would run to:
-The Ocean. I love the ocean and being in it is one of the most amazing experiences for me. Simultaneously, the ocean frightens me! But yes, the ocean, preferably off the coast of East Africa.
-My mother’s arms. Yup. I aint gonna lie. You know all of you are down with this, I’m just the one who’ll admit it!
-Brazil quite intrigues me
-Cuba quite intrigues me
-Africa always fascinates me

5 Things I would never wear
-pleated pants or skirts (Luna I hear you!)
-heels over an inch and a half. Tough. I’m not going to do it!
-shorts. No no no no no.
-tapered-leg trousers
-shiny spandex

5 favorite shows
In possible reaction to my parents’ fondness for that box, I don’t watch much of it but, when it’s good it’s:
-La Femme Nikita
-Boston Public
-Real Time with Bill Maher
-Family Guy

And I hear they’re all these great new shows and I’m waaay behind but, what to do?

5 Things I would do with 100 milion dollars.
Travel the world and take photographs. Hook up my family (minus all the ‘cousins’ who’d surely pop out of the woodwork). Finance my most insane and outlandish projects (proving that they aint so insane and outlandish afterall!). Build a house by the ocean.

5 Greatest joys.
-Lying in the grass in the sunshine
-Being in the water
-Being around people I love
-Being an mchokozi (annoyance)
-Finding new people to know, learn from, share with…

5 Songs I know the words to
-ninanoki (it’s an anthem innit?)
-my primary ‘school song’ (was I brave and strong and true? Did I fill my heart with joy my whole life through?… That was some deep sh*t that would clearly take a decade or so to check in!)
-tell me (Groove Theory)
-any Alanis song from “Jagged Little Pill”
-dlala mapantsula!

5 snacks
-chocolate croissants
-old Jamaica
-cashew nuts
-fresh bread

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Hole in My Art

The other weekend, I had some very interesting encounters with the idea of art. I went to see Kwame Anthony Appiah speak at the British Museum. Topic: “Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?” He tackled, among many interesting things, the problem of authenticity and telling others what to value in their own life. He talked about connection to art through identity being powerful but saw as more important, connecting to art despite difference. Art as human art rather than Indian art, Maasai art, Mayan art etc. etc. etc.

The weekend progressed with a friend casting a very critical eye on what I would describe as overly self-conscious art. Art that is trying too hard to be art. He felt that art should speak for itself and more importantly, that it should speak to people. That it should reflect in some way, something that they can relate to. Indeed, I realize that a lot of people feel alienated by “art”. I put the word in parentheses as a reminder to critique what constitutes art; who defines what is and isn’t art? Art is really all around us all the time, in different manifestations… But ongoing is the debate.

Coming in with a film angle, and more specifically, a Third World Cinema angle, there are some notions that Teshome H. Gabriel speaks about which I think could shed some light on the dynamics of the art debate. He contrasts print/literate art with folk/oral art.

With print, there is an emphasis on individual achievement. The individual is seen as separated from the general social fabric. Wisdom is characterized by a high degree of specialization in a particular field or discipline. In art, emphasized is conceptual interpretation and it is defined in terms of aesthetic. Viewer participation is discouraged and inhibited. The earth is a hostile world that has to be subdued. Paradise is in the future or elsewhere.

Contrastingly, the deeper meaning of the folk art form is held by cultural groups/communities and thus there is more emphasis on group competence. It is an occasion for collective engagement rather than an occasion for ‘escape’ from normal routine as is with the print/literate form. Art is defined in terms of context and it expects viewer participation and so arouses it. Wisdom is a state of intellectual maturity that is gained by experience.

Folk/oral forms are largely proprieted by the Third World and print/literate forms are more characteristic of the West. Of course these are somewhat reductions and generalizations but I use them here to illustrate the different baggage we all could be bringing when coming to discuss the merits and demerits of a work of art.

I think the confusion or questioning we find ourselves in comes from the fact that we have such a multitude of (sometimes conflicting) influences. For example, from colonialism on, the contact with the West has greatly shaped a lot of Third World ‘conventions’, institutions, ways of thinking and analyzing the world and our place in it. That is I believe what makes the art debate so complex. There is a part of me that sees the immense value of art as a collective experience: one that is made the richer by allowing dialogue between creator(s) and audience. One that is captivating because it resonates on some level with the viewer’s existence. At the same time, I do believe in individual responsibility and individual prowess and these are virtues that are, if I may, inherent in Gabriel’s description of the print/literate form. Where does that leave us?

I believe it is almost important to note that nothing exists fully within one box. There is always an intermingling across all frontiers. So the challenge is not to figure out where something ‘fits’ but to acknowledge all that it is comprised of.

That is not to say that everything is worthy of appreciation, but interestingly enough, if you try to understand where something is coming from, you are more likely to see it for what it truly is.

I often feel that a lot of African artists (and this includes writers, performers etc.) try too hard to be a certain way they perceive as laudatory in order to gain acceptance and possibly acclaim from a foreign audience. They champion the causes of their people yet their work cannot even be understood by those very people. These artists are not creating the work for themselves. They are creating it for foreign praise. It’s a major inferiority complex and it subverts the whole postcolonial project of using our voices to represent ourselves. We need to appreciate that we live in different circumstances and we speak in different ways and different does not mean lesser! It just adds to the rich human cultural fabric. I remember my undergrad school motto: Be true to your work and your work will be true to you. What artists need to do is be true to their selves!

“Why do I write? Because it is a way of organizing my feelings about myself and the world around me. Without writing I fear I may metamorphose into something unpleasant. Writing feeds me literally and metaphorically. Writing provides a means by which I can sit in judgement upon myself and reach conclusions (however temporary) that enable me to shuffle towards the next day and another crisis.”
(Caryl Phillips)

“'It seems to me, more and more, that the fictional project on which I've been involved ever since I began Midnight's Children back in 1975 is one of self-definition. That novel, Shame and The Satanic Verses strike me as an attempt to come to terms with the various component parts of myself - countries, memories, histories, families, gods.”
(Salman Rushdie)

The artist is a part of a greater whole. And to conversate with themselves, through their work, is to speak to everybody else who can relate to them. Something about universal experiences and universal truths. The artist who contrives to create cheats his/her audience of that.

Create what you know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Extending the Invitation…

(Though initially in response to some of the comments on An Invitation To Change, I felt these to be some issues that deserve greater spotlighting…)

A lot of the time, when people talk of making a difference, what is usually implied is an explicitly-economic difference. And indeed this is what we want at the end of the day but I feel that investing in human development as opposed to just economic development will reap greater economic rewards. Indeed it is a cyclic situation: economic development=human development=more economic development etc. etc. etc. What comes first, the chicken or the egg?

However, I still like to believe that there are fundamental changes we have to make in our ideology in order to witness any profound and long-lasting results. It's about what constitutes "doing more" for our country that interests me. Pumping in cash sure does help but I feel that it is a short term quick fix solution when it's done on an individual/family basis. I'm not saying that we shouldn't help our families, by all means, but that we should look at the greater picture and ask ourselves what we can do for it. Because at the end of the day, our standard of living is only truly improved when the standard of living of those around us are also improved, when our infrastructure is improved etc.

Mamas in the villages get new kangas, T-shirts and loaves of bread when election time comes around, courtesy of their MPs whose job description they aren't even clear about. MP gets in for another term and barely sets foot in his "beloved" constituency. Mama sees no improvement in her life save for a now-faded T-shirt. Next term, it happens again. Educating people about their rights is of utter importance. Creating a culture of assertion of rights is of utter importance.

I have noticed, on several occassions, in Nairobi public offices for example, the voicelessness that plagues our people. They stand intimidation and abuse from public officers, seemingly because of an exaggerated view of authority that these officers milk to the fullest to compensate for the indignity they face in the form of paltry wages. What people fail to remember (or recognize) is that these are your servants. Their job, by description is to serve you, not to taunt and extort you. Similarly, the politicians whose job it is to represent us, are in theory supposed to act in our interests. How will they ever if they don't care what our interests are? How will we ever get them to care if we do nothing but watch and shake our heads?

Monday, October 10, 2005

An Invitation to Change

In reference to a previous post "Me Myself and…Us", Akin commented thus:

"Question is, what really can be done about it? Most of the wealth of our talent is off the shores of Africa. A lot of us are NOT where we can create effective change. Personally, I live in London and I do wish create an impact, but yet I know that without enough influence (you may call it clout), I may not be able to do much. So I think to myself ... maybe I should make enough money, get enough people of like minds and move back to my country. But even then, how do I change a Nation's way of thinking when all everybody ever asks is "what is in it for me?" rather than genuinely ask "what can I offer?""

I know this is a question that many people may have at one time asked themselves. For some it is a daily inner-conflict. Do we just choose what some may call complacency and focus on our individual progress and live happily ever after? Do we choose to put our skills and talents and ideas into some constructive framework with the aim of collective (national?) progress? Do we trust that the former suggestion will somehow fulfill the latter objectives?

In the spirit of organisation (trying to find a place where ideas can be converted into actions and later yield results), both Akin and I would love to hear what others have to say/suggest/challenge/contribute/voice…

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Great Pretender

Retrospect is lovely. It makes everything so clear, so plain. Retrospect allows one time (and space) to admit to one’s former biases thus enabling denial and defensiveness to break down and fall away.

I have this horrible habit of constructing these ideas of who people are, based on paltry evidence from limited interactions. If I see something I like in them, I take it and run with it, embellishing all the way. Those signs that aim to soil my creation I passionately attempt to justify. What happens in the end is that I see someone who doesn’t really exist. I find myself living in a world of invisible men with tangible bodies. A great distortion of optimism.

So let’s have one more round of applause for retrospect. It’s truly liberating when you realize that all you’ve really lost is an illusion and not this grand wonder you believed you had discovered (but had actually made yourself).

In the end you see, the great pretender is me.


It’s interesting to note how afraid we are of something as simple as the truth. We hide from it, we withhold it, we try to run away from it and generally treat it like it’s the plague or a deadly disease we’re secretly suffering from and don’t want to spread. Truth is defined as the quality or state of being in accordance with fact or reality. So many are quick to pledge allegiance to realism yet do everything to demonstrate just how flaky that endorsement really is.

I’ve been doing some observation around town, hearing some very shocking anecdotes and indeed experiencing some untoward ones of my own. In all cases, it is apparent that the “wrong-doers” preferred deception because they were trying to save the “victims” the pain. … Did that sink in? I will lie to you to protect you. I will not respect you enough to trust that you can deal with reality. I will not give you the choice to deal with reality. I will create and maintain a fantasy for us to co-exist in. Sure, you’ll be content but more importantly I will be happy. I mean, granted your happiness will be based on superficialities but as long as you don’t ever have to know that, it’s okay isn’t it?

What’s wrong with this reasoning is that, when truth comes to light (and it always does), it’s more often the fact that there was an operation going on to veil it that hurts the most. People don’t really grasp how much easier everyone’s life can be if they just communicate openly and honestly. And they don’t believe that it’s just that simple, try as you might to convince them.

I am reminded of incidents in my childhood where I did something that I knew my parents would reprimand me for. I would wait for them to become aware of my misdeed a nervous, frightened wreck. Often, when they did come to know of whatever it was, their reaction was not even half as bad as I had imagined it would be, if even that much! And you look back and wonder why you stressed so. Why you racked your mind to craft alibis and ‘explanations’. The truth is always the easiest way out of a mess. No one can challenge the truth ¬¬— often you will be respected for championing it!

And in case it’s not assumed, I’m counting withholding up there with outward lying. Both are pretense. Life is a calm thing. Why can’t we keep it that way?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Extravagance or Economy? When Muthaiga Is Not Enough

President is allocated cash in the national Budget to build a(nother) home. Will this KSHS 100 million project increase the President's productivity? Will we see the returns of this hard-earned and reluctantly-given tax-payer money?

"Plans to build the new house for the President became public only yesterday because when Finance minister David Mwiraria tabled estimates of the Government's spending last June, all the money was lumped together under one total figure, with no breakdown given. ... Sh1.28 billion would be spent on development, like new houses – including that for the President. "

The floor is open...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Daily Gospel

"When I care to be powerful — to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid."

(Audre Lourde)