I had to get away from Nairobi for a while. The city gets to me like that. There is a short sightedness it breeds in me and I have decided to make a conscious decision hereafter to get away from it after every 3-4 months even if it’s just for a week.
Going to see my mum and the house she’s building at last readying herself for retirement did me some major good.
It reminded me of the beautiful simplicity of farm life, how many possibilities life has when you open your eyes, and the fact that if I play my cards right, I really do not have to be stuck to living in the city. Life in Nairobi as exciting as it gets, is ridiculous expensive and it got me thinking; why as a filmmaker can’t I spread out and take root elsewhere?
Nairobi has such discouraging shooting law and there’s so many filmmakers concentrated here, and not enough elsewhere! Why not base elsewhere and start new rules that actually favor indie filmmaking?!
The place in Taita where my mum lives is dry most of the year, which is terrible for farming but real good for filmmaking. There are easily accessible hilly areas with crazy cool views as well as the dry hot flats which I call home. Right near our farm there’s a booster that means full bars throughout and electricity isn’t a problem!
It made me realize I would actually love to come out here to do most of my writing quietly and perhaps go to either Nairobi or Mombasa when in need of excitement. But then it also made me wonder, why not bring some of that excitement right there?! I mean getting away to say Mtwapa for the nightlife and the strip clubs would be nice but regular artsy events actually do give a place a nice wholesomeness. And regular artsy events are good not just for art and artists, but also for the business of a place! Enter the artist residency idea!
The first time I heard the term “Artist Residency” (sometime in 2013) and found out what it means, I was blown away! I could not believe there existed spaces that artists were able to stay at, at little or no cost simply to work on their art projects. I learnt of it from a German (I actually think it was Michael) who was seeking to establish once such place in Kenya and was researching if there are any other. Turns out Kuona Trust did.
The conversation around one such space faded but the idea has never left my mind since then. The possibility that an independent artist (who may not even be mainstream or popular!) could be given a space to make just work on their art was such a beautiful thought! So much art has gone to shit, not because it wasn’t good enough to thrive but simply because it wasn’t given time and a space to mature.
My mom has taught girls who were such amazing actresses, and writers and musicians but it all went to nothing after high school, either because they didn’t know the right people, or didn’t even consider their art as something that was valuable enough to pursue for one’s whole life.
And I thought, what if professional artists (who weren’t white or from abroad) stayed in places like Voi or Mombasa or Kilifi etc, and were housed for months working on their thing…and while they were there, they could mentor groups of younger artists in their respective fields of expertise and in the end perhaps collaborate on something in some way! I don’t know exactly how this would work but if there exists a space that is simply for the creation, exhibition and curation of different works of art, I am sure art would definitely thrive in such a place.
Imagine if such spaces existed in different towns! Towns where putting up public art events isn’t such hustle as it is in Nairobi!
If it were well-orchestrated, how much amazing art could be created and how awesome would that be especially for we, artists?!
This is the grand sort of thinking I left Taita with. I even sent out an email on a whim and got back a positive response and a request for a proposal; and that is when I started freaking out.
What if I wrote the proposal and things didn’t even go through? What if the call for a proposal was just a formality and truly, nothing would come out of it; and I was just stupid and naïve to even have hoped? What if I dreamt too big for nothing? What if it was all a waste of my time and optimism?
There was also the very real and scary challenge of where the fuck does one even start when you’re just an indie filmmaker, with a small piece of promised land and hardly enough money to get started on any other film project leave alone a freaking artist residency that works like a charm! Am I disillusioned to even dare think such things?
Fast forward to a week after I’m back to Nairobi:
The challenge is still scary but much less so after I attended an event by The Book Bunk, at MacMillan Library about a week ago. Kindly read about them and what they’re doing here. These girls did not start with millions; they simply saw a thing that needed changing and went after it, making the connections to get the ball rolling and then seeking funds as they go. I found it all very brave and gutsy- and I no longer think I’m disillusioned.
It isn’t only wealthy people who have created things that changed lives; sometimes it’s people with just a little money who get the crazy ideas and have to follow them through. And along the way, you meet equally crazy people and larger beautiful dreams seem more possible!
So I will write the proposal in all the grand scale I can think up, and even if nothing comes out of it, it will not have been a waste of my time or optimism. It will be the blueprint upon which my other dreams can be built upon. After all, the many dreams of mine that have come true so far constantly remind me; as long as the fire for something remains, a dream never really dies; it simply shape shifts.