Rachel Gichinga on Creative Fire | 30 Days Unchained: Day 18 Sunday 27 January, 2013
30 Days Unchained/#30Unchained | Day 18 – 1/27/13 | Inspiration: Rachel Gichinga Art is politics; and, it’s the weapon Kuweni Serious uses to, as they say, “fight the evil forces of apathy,” they saw plaguing Kenyan youth in the aftermath of the country’s 2007 elections. Kuweni Serious is a cultural activist organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. Their team […]
30 Days Unchained/#30Unchained | Day 18 – 1/27/13 | Inspiration: Rachel Gichinga
Art is politics; and, it’s the weapon Kuweni Serious uses to, as they say, “fight the evil forces of apathy,” they saw plaguing Kenyan youth in the aftermath of the country’s 2007 elections. Kuweni Serious is a cultural activist organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. Their team includes creative minds (Jim Chuchu and Mbithi Masya work in collaboration with Just a Band, Ghetto Radio, NiSisi! and Roma Media) committed to raising political consciousness among Kenyan youth, encouraging them to be active participants in the political process.
Rachel Gichinga explains why the movement is so important, telling Live Unchained: “We never really have to think about self-censorship or fear for our lives/safety, and this is directly because of people like Ngugi wa Thiong’o who fought these battles on our behalf. If they worked so hard to clear the democratic space for us, who are we to disregard that opportunity and sit in silence?”
Rachel’s motivation to rebel is the inspiration for today’s challenge…
Challenge: [Find, create or remix an image that answers the question]: What will you fight for?
Share your image(s) on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and be sure to tag @liveunchained and use the hashtag #30unchained so we can shout you out! Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to keep up with the latest #30unchained news.
Live Unchained: Can you tell us where the name Kuweni Serious comes from?
Rachel Gichinga: “Kuweni Serious” means “let’s get serious”. The Kiswahili word “Kuweni” employs both the collective and the imperative, and this is the sentiment that we’re trying to capture and relay. We felt that it was important to get young Kenyans thinking and talking about their country’s political development, and, hopefully beginning to act as well. One of our favourite contributors, Njoki Ngumi, put it best in her interview when she said, “We are not as powerless as we think we are.” Kuweni Serious aims at letting primarily members of our generation know exactly that.
All of us have a creative background and work in the arts, so it just made sense to use that format as it is one which we understand well, and one that we think our peers relate to with comparative ease as well.
LU: Kuweni Serious has been very involved in mobilizing people to vote in the 2010 Constitution referendum. Why was the new constitution so important? Now that the new constitution has passed, what new opportunities and challenges do you think lie ahead for Kenya’s youth?
RG: Let me provide a bit of context for this first. Kuweni Serious was borne out of the aftermath of the 2007 presidential election. We noticed that we and our peers spent that terrible period online, on Facebook, passing on information and opinions about what had happened/was happening. People were angry, scared, hurt, apathetic—the full gamut of emotions. The common thread there was that people from this particular background (young, educated, with some level of exposure to the world, folks who know what good governance should look like and are therefore particularly put-off by the fact that this is so absent in the Kenyan context) either genuinely cared about the country and wanted to do something but had no idea about how to get involved; or viewed the problem as too overwhelming and too detached from their common reality, and were, therefore, apathetic.
There were thus two primary kinds of young Kenyans for whom we started Kuweni Serious: the kind who were ranting on Facebook about injustice from the comfort of their armchair, feeling powerless and helpless; and the kind whose anger at the post-election violence stemmed from the fact that their favorite coffee shop/bar was rendered inaccessible during that period.
We at Kuweni Serious are currently focused more on the macro-issues. So, for example, when it came to the constitutional referendum, it was more important for us to get young people to read the constitution for themselves, rather than us taking a particular stand and telling them which side to vote for. That’s why we put bits of the constitution in comic form—make it easier for people to read, and hopefully if they start reading one section, they’ll move to another. We highlighted constitutional provisions that no one was talking about—general focus was on abortion, kadhi’s courts, land; we looked at forest cover, consumer rights, emergency medical care.
Our aim was to show people that there was more to the constitution than the few issues on which the politicians were choosing to concentrate their energies. Also, we believe firmly in the democratic process, and in the need for people to participate in their own development.
So, the long-winded and somewhat abstract response to your question is not so much about what we think the new constitution will or won’t do. There’s a lot of good in it, and there’s a lot that will be incredibly difficult to successfully implement. Our focus is: Do young Kenyans think that the political process works? Do they have faith in it? Do they think their vote counts? Do they know what they want their ideal Kenya to look like? When they went out to vote, did they understand what they were looking to either introduce, uphold, or throw out? Do they understand what building a new and improved Kenya involves? Are they willing to participate in that process? We believe that getting young Kenyans to a) read the constitution, and b) vote, were the first steps in addressing that.
LU: Your website states: “Perhaps it is only when our comfort zones were threatened that we realized that our leaders, our ‘Honorables’ are self-obsessed, thieving, murderous idiots. Honorables, indeed.” This is a very bold and passionate statement. Artists across the world have been censored or forcibly punished for making politically critical art (Ngugi Wa Thiong’o for, example). You all seem fearless, in both your writing and your art. Did you have any reservations about making such direct statements? And videos, like “Save Yourself. Vote.”? Why?
RG: We’re incredibly grateful for those who’ve gone before us and spoke out so that we could have a voice. We salute them. We never really have to think about self-censorship or fear for our lives/safety, and this is directly because of people like Ngugi who fought these battles on our behalf. If they worked so hard to clear the democratic space for us, who are we to disregard that opportunity and sit in silence?
As for the videos, they feature Rapcha the Sayantist, who’s a popular local comedian and radio show host, in a series of tongue-in-cheek rants about how the government should step in to save a number of situations, from providing customers for hawkers, to finding alternative forms of contraception for slum dwellers, to ensuring that there’s always oil in the power transformers so that poor people can take it to use in their cooking. At which point Makmende (a fictitious Kenyan superhero created by Just A Band, also known as Kenya’s first viral sensation) steps in to beat up the guy for his laziness. The idea is that sitting and waiting for the government to do things for us (reiterated in If This Country Burns, We Burn With It) will achieve absolutely nothing. Save yourself from your own mess, and one way in which you can do that is by voting, which puts the power of change in your own hands.
LU: Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
RG: Living unchained means the ability to be undefined. It means embracing the multiple identities we hold as young 21st century Africans living in a globalized word. Amartya Sen has a great way of putting it: “Despite the immensity of the vision implicit in the laudable task of ‘situating a person in the society’, the translation of that vision into actual application has often taken the form of neglecting the relevance of the person’s plural social relations, seriously underestimating the richness of the multiple features of her ‘social situation’. The underlying vision sees humanity in a dramatically reduced form.”
We at Kuweni Serious stand with that as our definition of living unchained.
This interview is excerpted from a full feature with the artist. View the original article here.
30 Days Unchained/#30unchained is an interactive creative countdown to the Live Unchained Anniversary Celebration . Everyday for 30 days, we’ll share some of our most popular interviews with Live Unchained featured artists. They include women creatives of various disciplines from across the African diaspora. Her creative journey will be the inspiration for your challenge. To participate simply respond to the challenge question with images (not words). Share it on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest and be sure to tag @liveunchained so we can shout you out – it’s that simple. Learn more about 30 Days Unchained, including rules and prizes here. Get your daily challenge from Thursday, January 10th through the day of the big bash on Friday, February 8th at www.liveunchained.com.
Written by Kathryn Buford and Kheprisa Burrell