Thursday, February 25, 2016

Voice of Kenyan Art Limited… VOKAL – Right of Reply

It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it. It’s not what you say but how you say itBlack Uhuru (Utterance)

I just learnt of a new clandestine art outfit in town. Its agenda is unknown. So is its founder(s), member(s). Or whether it’s a one man show. A lone ranger. It seems to be operating as an anonymous outfit. And looks like the person behind it really likes Julian Assange. Or Edward Snowden. Vokal Vokal thinks they’re a whistleblower. Maybe they are!

Someone just accused an institution of what they refer to as a “myriad of wrongdoings.” Long list. Not sure of authenticity of the accusations but some are quite non-factual and common knowledge in the general scene. Some though, are stuff straight outta  the Cosa Nostra.

These allegations are serious! On a normal day, I’d take them very seriously. The only problem I have is the channel the author uses. Someone seems to have had an almost credible source of information but driven by bile lost the plot. My two cents forensics points to someone subjective driven by malice. Anger maybe. But I could be wrong.

I don’t know who VOKAL VOKAL is and care less about his tirade but can offer him/her/them some unsolicited advice.

You see, the local art industry has very strange loyalties. Where a person’s identity – name, face and work almost supersedes what has to be said (most of the time). It is earned over years of relationships that sometimes span whole careers. In a space where there are only a handful institutions, cultural managers have to shuttle within these same institutions to advance their practice. Circumstances have forced us to accommodate each other. We’ve been here before. We’ve loathed each other. Disrespected one another. Taken the competition for granted. But you become mellow when you get up everyday and realize the only people stuck in the game with you are the ones you disrespect. And the ones to complete your transaction are the ones you dislike. It’s made us realize that sometimes the only person that can offer the service you require, is the one you were bad mouthing during the previous night’s drinking session. We have learnt to be professional enough to see beyond personal sexual preferences and political alignment - to act professional and keep our end of the bargain. And if someone errs, you tell them to their face. Over a beer they’re paying for.

We can’t have two sets of rules – where you act juvenile and hide behind cheap pseudonyms yet you accuse others of being unprofessional. We, or rather I can’t allow you to sit at your ivory tower criticizing other peoples efforts while hiding behind false identities to evade questions and scrutiny.  I’m not the accused person’s lawyer but I’m quite disappointment that in this day and age we still have grown folk who want to be taken seriously yet their modus operandi is akin to terrorism. If you stand by your allegations, please do it above board - with your name as we all know it and through your official email that you use when seeking the services of those you accuse. Then maybe, I will take you seriously. Why punch in the dark? What are you afraid of? Victimisation? That’s exactly what you’ve done to those you’ve referenced! It’s all or nothing I suppose. You can’t have your cake and eat it. And expect us to let you enjoy the pie too. In an era where the local scene is advocating for intellect filled discourse and objective/organized criticism, you have chosen guerilla warfare. Terrorism. There’s no difference between you and those bad folk. You may have had genuine grievances but you spoil it by hiding behind a fake I.D which turns you into a mudslinger. A whinger. A cry baby dragging the rest of us to his/her fights.

You seem to know this outfit really well and maybe have/had relations with them, why didn’t you write when all was rosy? You’re also quite informed and try to write well (by my standards) - I wish it’d be for the good of the arts but you’ve lowered yourself to the class of the social media bigots and faceless bloggers who hide their identity because they don’t believe in their cause.
How is the accused supposed to respond to your allegations? Maybe they’re not supposed to because your accusations are subjective. Good manners dictate that if you’ve got beef with someone, you tell them. Maybe that’s why I’m upset. Your text lacks basic etiquette. You made your accusations while hiding, and then? You’re probably happy when everyone suspects the other. And when folks forward each other your text. We’ll spend time trying to figure out who you are, then that’s it. Maybe that’s all you want. But when the sun goes down, it’s back to loyalties – Right now there’s an artist dropping off their work at a gallery. There’s a curator driving into an artist’s studio. And there’s a dealer running to the bank to cash a client’s cheque. Why? Because almost all the time, it’s about the artist’s work and involved parties contractual obligations. Keep your end of bargain, I keep mine. Not what I do outside that. Not who I’m in a relationship with. Not if am a deadbeat parent. Not even my choice poison will come into play.

You seem to know the scene well so you should know that we don’t (necessarily) work with people we like but with those whose abilities to further our cause (whatever that means). I don’t have to like my dealer. I complain about high commissions. And I wish I could bypass VAT and I’m sure they know because we’ve had this conversation. I won’t be shocked if they don’t like me either but we’ve learnt to enjoy our relations and respect decisions agreed mutually. Yes we have unscrupulous dealers. Not because of their race or political leanings but because they’re just ill mannered. And we shun them. You don’t send anonymous emails. I treat every (business) partnership like a romantic liaison. If you’re not getting what you signed up for, you don’t blog about it; you handle your biz. Ama?

Finally, if you were candid enough with who you are and offered us another option, there’d be a queue at yours right now but artists have mouths to feed, schools fees to deal with, mortgages to service etc and like other citizens with a lot to deal with, your text goes beyond the arts. It is very Kenyan in context. It feels quite sensational – like the Anglo leasing. Or Goldenberg. Where sometimes there seems to be no substance beyond the sensation – unprofessional conduct, financial impropriety, tax evasion, fraud, intimidation, racism/nepotism, conflict of interest… You even pull a George W. Bush card (when he invaded eye-rack) - the “Coalition of willing versus the axis of evil” where you expect us to take sides. Honestly, how do you side with a faceless person in this? I’d have believed you and your intentions but I come from a place where the only invisible person/being you side with is God. Sorry I’m not on your side in this.

I’m good and ready to join hands in fighting good fights – artist enlightenment, artist empowerment, artist education, artists’ rights … not personal vendettas. Sorry.

On a lighter note, it seems I shall never show in the said outfit since they “suspiciously feature only artists married to foreign wives & husbands.”

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