“The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.” –Alberto Giacometti
Before I met him, I had never put much thought into the effect that art has on our lives. I remember my art classes when I was about eight years old, mosaic, collage.. oh the names they had. I feel nostalgic when I see myself back then, applying black shoe polish on manila paper and later using a sharp compass to draw on it. The images would come out so beautifully. By the time I was done, my hands would be messy but right there was an expression I had within me. I had drawn my dream home, a mansion with a big pool in the backyard. It was intense!
Mau Mau Collective is an interesting name. What is the inspiration behind it?
I am a visual artist, writer & filmmaker. I began illustration at 5 years of age, a time when my father & mother urged me to keep drawing different things from animals to everyday items like cars and scenery. Later in my teenage years I began to paint a lot, experimenting with acrylics, water cooler and oil paints. In my early 20s, I began learning digital art and then learned to operate DSLR cameras for film and photography in my mid-20s. In my late 20s I joined the mainstream NGO creative industry in Kenya where I connected with many artists but nonetheless felt my work as a creative was stifled by the red tape characteristic of the industry which, ironically, curtails creativity. I often clashed with my supervisors because of creative and philosophical differences and eventually left to focus on building Mau Mau Collective. I began Mau Mau because I wanted to see a Kenya where artists thrived solely from their artwork. In other words, I wanted creative work to have the same respect other professions have.
I started using the name Mau Mau in December 2014, a time at which I had just left the Kenyan mainstream creative industry. My grandfather was of the Mau Mau generation &, just as they were revolutionary then, I felt the need for the same revolutionary spirit now albeit through the arts. Later in October 2015, I revived the philosophy & started an organization then called ‘Mau Mau Arts’. At this time I faced implicit opposition because I was calling for something that no other local creative organization espoused – economic & creative independence of the artist. Some saw my philosophy as a threat to their foreign funding others as direct competition; sadly, this attitude was a complete misunderstanding of Mau Mau’s vision. After a long protracted battle with elements from within, I eventually completely detached myself from the mainstream industry to focus on growing Mau Mau. Later in 2016, we changed our name to Mau Mau Collective which was more reflective of the inclusive network we’ve since built.
What are the key aspects of your activities?
Mau Mau Collective focuses on 3 areas of the creative arts: visual arts, film & performing arts. The last includes spoken word, music and other alternative forms. We are also keen on creative education, an aspect of artistic development that hopes to place the local artists at par with international standards. Our programs and activities therefore have a heavy focus on mentorship and cultural exchanges.
What impact have you had so far and where do you see your organization in the future?
We have been in operation for about a year and so far we have 2 mini-documentaries (on graffiti and mentorship), 3 short films and a host of cross-border collaborations to our belt. We are the future! We take pride in our work because we are independent and depend on our own resources (those we plough in through our own independent freelance work as artists and consultants) to fuel Mau Mau, a thing no other local creative organisation does because they rely on donor support.
Which projects have you worked on? Do you have any favorites and why?
For me, the most memorable project done so far is a mentorship one we did in Jericho. At first we had to do a reconnaissance trip to Jericho (where we did the installation) in order to connect with the community and, more importantly, get their involvement in the project. The area has a series of maisonette houses that are not separated by fences; all close to the major roads. This was a great advantage for the artists given that the walls of the houses were already strategically positioned as canvasses for use.
Initially, we got resistance from the house owners when we said we wanted to do murals on their walls but after more discussion and test run on some gates they were impressed by the skill and messaging of the art and agreed to the exercise. In fact, the community was so inspired that now each home owner wanted to have their wall covered with a mural.
A month later, we had calls from the residents asking the artists to return and teach their children to use the spray can style for graffiti art as well as do more murals. Our artists have since returned to do more, this time round collectively supported by the neighborhood residents.
Creative Arts was a core subject in the primary school curriculum. Should it be brought back?
Yes and no. Yes because the arts need to be in any national curriculum; no because the one in our current 8-4-4 curriculum is moribund and needs a serious overhaul should it get anywhere close to eventually placing local creatives at international caliber.
Most people don’t know where to access artistic work like yours. Where can we interact with you and fellow art lovers?
We are in the process of creating an interactive website that’ll primarily serve as a database of all the artists in our network (a network that is already regional and growing). This site will offer digital curatorial facilities where any visitor can get detailed information about our internal projects and those done by the creatives in our network. Currently, anyone can drop us a line on email or phone, details of which are on our social media platforms.
Are you working on any partnerships? What about being a member of the Mau Mau Collective?
Yes, we are currently in partnership with a U.K. based cultural producer, In Place of War, who are facilitating a cultural exchange program that is still ongoing. We are also looking for local partners but this has proven difficult because most of the creative spaces already in existence rely heavily on external funding (which is not necessarily wrong) as opposed to self-generated income – a thing that’s antonymous to our philosophy of independence. With the completion of our website, we’ll also have an online module where anyone can join our network for free.
Are there any moments in your life that have been rough? Any encouragement for someone on the rough road at the moment?
Yes, definitely. I have gone through several tough times in the past, however, the most recent was betrayal by people who pretended to be close to me yet were trying to sabotage my work by the use of proxies. These people were intimidated by my fast growth & superior intellect. This is what drove me out of the mainstream industry. Instead, I focused all my energy & skill on creating an alternative industry where creatives can thrive. I encourage young people to be bold in believing in their own strength and going ahead to pursue their passion. If you have a passion for something, chances are that you are good at it and, if you are good at something, chances are that you will make money from it eventually. Never give up!
If you were to meet one of the greatest artists, dead or alive. Who would it be?
Wow, that’s hard! Alive; perhaps Alejandro Inarritu (film director), Quentin Tarantino (film director), Pharrell (musician), Ava DuVernay (film director), Pascal Aka (Ghanaian film director), etc. Dead; Felt Kuti (musician), Leonardo DaVinci (scientist/artist).
Imagine you were a super hero, who would you want to be?
One-Punch Man (an anime character!).
On a light note, what is your most embarrassing moment?
When I was in class four I played basketball with my ordinary school shoes instead of sneakers which then got busted at the rear seam. I then used cello-tape to hold it together a thing that elicited endless jokes from everyone in school !