Monday, February 2, 2015

My Wish For 2015

2014’s gone. Whether it was good or bad is irrelevant. Personal. It ended with a bang and 2015’s here. Good manners dictated that the last couple of weeks I use the phrases “Happy New Year” or “Prosperous 2015’ every time I meet/or talk to someone. Whoever started the tradition I don’t know. I shall try to find out when am done with this text but if you do, please let me know.

January too is gone. The year has started proper.
What constitutes a happy/good (maybe prosperous) year? For me ; Me, not the whisky lover. Or the soccer hooligan. Or the guy who declines to be the neighbourhood-association-committee chairman. But me; the practitioner who operates within the confines of the Kenyan Contemporary space.

The Kenyan scene is growing fast. I wish it’d happen faster. I wish… I hope. Maybe pray (even if it sounds abit desparate) that 2015 can be happy and prosperous. For that to happen, I think all involved should ‘pull up their socks’ (I love this line from my primary school days – my English teacher would’ve been proud of me). We should all put in an extra shift for the good of the team. Here’s my suggestion of who? how? why?

Artists are important. Very important. The most important in the chain methinks. But in the Kenyan contemporary (more specifically Nairobi) there have been a lot of cases of artists behaving badly. Most of us think we’re divine. That we call the shots! Maybe we do. We believe we’re the main guys and when it gets to our heads, we get it all twisted. We behave badly! And give the rest a bad name. Everyone is tired of artists thinking they can get away with all sorts of misdemeanors just because they are artists. I am tired of people (other artists included) complaining of artists being too drunk or too stoned to honour appointments. Artists doing (unprintable) things (in publicly owned spaces) and not wanting to be held accountable. Artists with Diaper Mentality. I am disheartened by artists who cannot behave professionally. Those who have to be kicked out of institutions because they cannot keep basic rules. Those who call themselves professional yet don’t pay subsidized rent denying young-fresh-from-school-folk opportunities in fundedsusidized spaces. Those who don’t hold younger artists’ hands and show them the ropes.  I hope this year artists not only continue making good art but also add onto that some responsibility and a little self respect. I wish artists can own their practice (whatever that means) and reduce dependency on development-aid-institutions.

Art Writers
Hmmm! I still think there are too many artists and not enough written about them. Forget exhibition reviews and those “Joe Is The Best Artist In The World” or “Jane’s Work Fetched A Million Dollars At The Auction” type of isht!

I mean objective and informative texts. I long for a day I shall read a text, go grab a cuppa, then read it again. A day I shall open the paper and find a substance beyond sensation type of text. (Most) Artists are very clever. They are quite informative within the sanctity of their studios and are very coherent about the philosophy behind their practice. Unfortunately, you rarely read this on any platform. I wish they’d write more, but if they can’t, I hope those who do would write more informative reads and stop assuming their audiences are familiar with their subjects. That they’d be more educative. I hope we’ll see more works published by art scholars. I wish every art institution would have a monthly or quarterly newsletter/zine. I have this wild dream that one fine day an art text shall beat Njoki Chege’sCity Girl” on a popularity scale in the local dailies.

Art Schools
If there’s one thing one can hold against me is that the last time I visited a local art school was prolly 3 years ago. I wish the art schools would be less detached from the main scene. I (and a handful of other artists) have tried to initiate some sort of discourse but there seems to be a clear invisible line that’s not to be crossed. It always feels like a case of “we and them” which is quite a shame. I wish the schools could have activities that would allow artists in and they’d be more participatory in events outside their campuses.

It’s awkward that Kenyan artists are all over campuses in the west – Kentucky University, Fontys Akademie, Rijks Akademie, Mahatma Gandhi-Moka, Univervity of Namibia  etc for artists residencies and workshops but get almost no airtime in local institutions. How I wish local universities would start residencies. Self funded are fine. Or even start a system where practicing artists get credits (depending on level of practice & contribution to art scene) leading to shortened period in acquiring degrees. Or even honor pioneer Kenyan artists (instead of those annoying politicians) with doctorates – Imagine Dr. Ancent Soi, Dr. Etale Sukuro, Dr. Margaret Odundo...

I gave up on the government long ago but my stance has kinda’ mellowed as I get older. I won’t pull that “Tunaomba Serikali” line but I’d like to carry on a conversation from last years’ Kenya Art Fair. These government functionaries (no disrespect) should stop walking into art spaces expecting a fight. Radiating negative energy. We’re supposed to be ‘batting for the same team’ here. I wish they’d get more involved to comprehend what they’re dealing with.

I wish my minister would attend more art events, spend more time looking at art and that he’d stop reading those annoying speeches about a National Art Gallerywhen he does his rounds.’ I wish His team would sit down tomorrow and start drafting a proper/coherent Cultural Policy that is relevant to the Kenyan space and dynamics. They should be thinking of constituting an all inclusive, professional and non-partisan National Arts Council and do away with these so-called Task Forces after which we can start talking of a National Art Gallery. Then probably start having conversations about collecting art. Just imagine a Kenyan Government owned Permanent Art Collection.That would be a very prosperous 2015 for us all.

Art Spaces
A spot check suggests we have alot of art spaces but somehow we interact with only 4 or 5 all year round. Most of these art spaces are still boxed labeled as “Having alot of Potential.” They have beautiful walls with modern lights but with an almost non-existent programming. You wonder why they exist! I hope this year my itinerary will be more inclusive and that I shall attend an exhibition in every space labeled ‘gallery’ or ‘art center’ at least thrice. With about 200 artists practicing in Nairobi and its environs, it’s highly possible to fill up calendars of all these spaces all years round. That’d be a good year!

Other Practitioners
There are a lot of people whose practice is attached to art. Most of the time I hear them being referred to as ‘stakeholders’. I hope this year they enlighten me on their role so that I know where my practice meets theirs.

For a long time Nairobi had no premier art event. We’d be treated for a number of high profile solo shows coupled with a handful of quite innovative group/conceptual exhibitions. However, it’s rapidly changing. Last year was very promising – Godown Art Centre’s Manjano Exhibition, Circle Art Agency’s Modern & Contemporary E.A Art Auction and Kuona Trust’s Kenya Art Fair were probably the main events. Then there was the Museum’s Affordable Art Show, The International School Of Kenya’s Art Show & Sale and Godown’s NaiNiWho2. Quite impressive.

I hope they all happen again this year. That’s quite a number of events to look forward to. And I hope there are improvements too. Such fixtures are what raise the profile of art within a space. If we can get 4 or 5 right and probably get an ambitious posse to try out a Biennale. That’d be something. (though word on the street’s that ‘Nairobi Biennale’ & ‘Kenya Biennale’ are already registered as a persons’ individual entity so we can’t use those titles).

Pretty basic wishes for the year methinks. Someone once said ‘No matter where we’re from, your dreams are valid’ and I must admit I took her pretty seriously. I hope that alongside resolutions of losing weight, quitting tobacco & alcohol, making more money… there were a few of working harder and more efficiently and that we shall all aspire to make 2015 a good year for the Kenyan contemporary scene. It takes everyone pulling their weight to strengthen and make it more dynamic.

To call a year happy or prosperous is all semantics. What matters is when at the years’ end, we’ll be happy with the process and whether we shall have enjoyed the ride.  For all those willing to walk the talk, let’s make 2015 a not necessarily happy & prosperous one, but a GOOD YEAR.

Hii mwaka lazima iwe poa.

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