Thursday, November 14, 2013

Kwa Nini? The Curio City of Nairobi | #SondekaFest

Living in the city, any city, and certainly Nairobi city, can turn anyone into a highly amassed creature. High on the daily calls for efficiency a day by day city life presents, it becomes easy to float silently past life and its moments of living, forgetting our childhood curiosity.

An interesting word, that. Curiosity. The foundation of knowledge, this insatiable word is. A word that gleans with cuteness and a mother’s pride every time a child asks why.

Kwa nini?

Remember that? My mother certainly would. From the second I learnt the words, they became a sacred chant in my childhood search for reason. Granted, the words were mostly used after instances of mischief, with my mother’s responses followed – or, more usually, substituted – by a slap on the wrist.

Usikanyage carpet na viatu. [Don’t step on the carpet with your shoes on]

“Kwa nini?”

Usikalie kitanda sio yako. [Don’t sit on a stranger’s bed]

“Kwa nini?”

Usikule switi…

Well, you get the picture.

Somewhere along the way, many of us lose this curiosity. A response mechanism, really, to questions we quickly learned were frowned upon in and of themselves. The unusual becomes usual, driven by the need to be civil. Or else.

The artist, however, seems to retain something of the child’s visual strategy: how to look at the world before knowing. The artist reminds us to feel, reminds us to listen, reminds us to stop and stare. The artist reminds us to observe and experience our lives and what lives in them. The words that breathe lyric into our verve; the sights that brush colour into our toneless workstations; the beats that pounce onto our spirit and make it bounce; the whiffs of scent which infuse our senses, suffusing scentless days.

“Only the poets, by which I mean all artists, know who we are. Not the soldiers, not the statesmen… People who do not know you, who will never know you…you are responsible to those people, to lighten their darkness…”
-          James Baldwin, 1962

Anyone who visits Nairobi will quite likely leave it with a memento. A curio to remind them of their visit… the sites they went to, and what sights they meant to see but could not. Maasai amulets made by Maasai Market craftsmen. Postcards made from aerial views of Mount Kenya. Heck, even recipes of their favourite Swahili dish.

It doesn’t come easy, however. Being an artist entails a total risk of everything. You have to respect your craft, to learn its power, as well as respect its ability to cause personal pain and torment. You have to be humble enough not to let your art destroy you, because it can; because in all likelihood, it will.

Fortunately, art has been steadily rising in Kenya these past 20 years. Creative organizations such as Kuona Trust and the Go Down Arts Centre, as well as Kwani Trust, Storymoja Africa and more recently Pawa254, have all served the Kenyan art scene immensely, proving that there is indeed a living to be made off artistic avenues.

This month, as from 29th November to the 1st of December, Creatives Garage will be curating “Sondeka Fest”, a festival designed to highlight the potential possibilities that the creative industry has, and to promote it as an investment area as we celebrate Kenya’s milestone of turning 50. 

To excite our curiosity… to remind us what it felt like to create.

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