Wednesday, May 30, 2012

EU funding for Kenya Visual Artists promoting Good Governance



VISUAL ARTISTS WITH EU SUPPORT ADVANCE GOOD GOVERNANCE

The Kenya Visual Artists Network is designed to create “a vital voice for (Kenyan) artists to influence good governance

By Margaretta wa Gacheru, 

The Power of Unity Exhibition which opened May 22nd and running through July 22nd at the Nairobi Gallery is unprecedented for so many reasons.
For one, it heralds the launch of the new ‘Kenya Visual Arts Network’ which is a construct of the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion, and Constitutional Affairs (not the Ministry of Culture!) in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya.
Hudson Lumti's Promotion of Peaceful Co-Existence at the Power of Unity Exhibition at Nairobi Gallery

Funded by the European Union, which has never before supported cultural projects and cultural actors in Kenya, the Visual Arts Network could very well become a corner stone for local artists to finally be taken seriously by the Kenya Government, which until now has barely paid lip service to the value of culture in national development or even in the Vision 2030 position paper.
Indeed, as Wakanyote Njuguna observed at the Network launch, as recently as 2008, the Government policy paper for the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture did not make a single mention of Visual Art, leave alone visual artists. 
 Wakanyote Njuguna spoke on behalf of the Kenyan Artists at the opening of the EU-funded Power of Unity exhibition at Nairobi Gallery. Pix by Qi Lin

Visual art wasn’t even in the vocabulary of the Culture Ministry. To underscore how valueless the Government has previously perceived the visual arts as being, in 2003 the new Coalition Government removed Art from the national syllabus.
“It was President Moi in 1985 who instituted Art as an examinable subject in the national curriculum,” recalled Dr. Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui, a senior lecturer in Fine Art at Kenyatta University.
Meanwhile, it was Michuki’s Rules that made matatu art and the beautification of public service vehicles (PSV) illegal. The former government minister’s Rules not only diminished the decorative beauty of matatus, which had already become a global attraction luring tourists to come to Kenya. They also rendered countless matatu and graffiti artists jobless when the rules were rigorously enforced. 
So the big question (the elephant in the room?) now is whether the Kenya Government will seriously support its visual artists and appreciate the role the EU understands they have the potential to play in promoting ‘good governance’, conflict resolution and national unity.
According to the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Kenya, Marjaana Sall, the role of culture in development cannot be overstated. “The EU believes that Culture lies at the heart of human development and civilization…Culture is a core value both of Africa and Europe. It is a common denominator of both continents,” she said at the Network launch.
       EU Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Kenya, Marjaana Sall.

Having as its primary concern the promotion of good governance and development, the EU in collaboration with the Justice Ministry established what it calls the Non-State Actors Support Program or NSA-NET, to promote democratic governance through ‘capacity building’ and working with civil society and cultural actors.
It’s out of that commitment to building capacity among the cultural actors that the Kenya Visual Artists Network was born and the Power of Unity exhibition also came into being. Having sent a shout out to visual artists connected to the National Museums of Kenya, adjudicators Wakanyote Njuguna, John Diang’a and Harsita Waters of Alliance Francaise selected just over 50 artworks out of more than twice that many entries to be part of the exhibition.
As an added incentive to visual artists, six cash awards were also offered, ranging from KSh40,000 down to KSH5,000. Announcing the top prize, Wakanyote said John Mwangi Maina was most deserving since one stipulation for winning was including elements related to good governance and development in one’s artwork.
John Mwangi Maina's painting 'Let's Talk' won 1st prize of KSh40,000 for his painting which reflected the EU concern for peace, stability, reconciliation and good governance.

Maina’s “Let’s Talk’ clearly reflected some of the key concerns the EU had identified. At the center of a rural landscape painting, he had drawn a gathering of peoples from a diversity of backgrounds listening under a tree to someone talk on the virtues of resolving problems amicably, democratically, and peacefully.
The other five artists to win cash awards were Androuelle Simiyu Susan, Charles Ngatia, Sebastian Kiarie, John Solly Savala and Peter Kimani Ndiritu.
 John Solly Savala's One Strong Voice won a cash prize from the EU at the opening of the Power of Unity Exhibition

Not all of the artworks in the show conveyed the same attention to the themes the EU sought to support. For instance, Allan Joseph Green’s nudes seem totally out of place in the exhibition. So do some of the wildlife paintings and the abstract expressionist works, none of which offer much food for thought.
But then the Kenya Visual Artists Network is brand new. One assumes the organizers will be conducting workshops, seminars and art residencies with the EU funding to ensure that visual artists get the message: that art has the capacity as Madame Sall said in an exclusive interview with Business Daily, to promote national unity, foster a sense of national identity and even strengthen economic development by cultivating employment of artists in Kenya’s creative economy.
 Hassan Athman's Power Sharing didn't win a cash prize but was one of the most striking paintings in the exhibition.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Committed to justice for people and planet

Wangari Muta Maathai, 1940-2011

Margaretta wa Gacheru

2011-09-28, Issue 550

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/76700

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Wangari Maathai ‘achieved more in one short lifetime than most people can even contemplate,’ writes Margaretta wa Gacheru, founding ‘one of the most important environmental movements in the world’ and highlighting ‘the capacity of African rural women to problem-solve for the planet’.
News of Wangari Maathai’s demise on Sunday 25 September spread around the world like wildfire. I read about the Nobel Prize winner’s death online at CNN.com early Monday morning, but it was on all the leading global news sites from Moscow to Muscat to Madrid.

What’s striking is that Dr Maathai is one person who (for better or worse) got heaps of global media coverage in her lifetime, not only at her demise, which is rare. Usually, one has to wait for someone’s obituary to find out all the incredible tidbits about their life. But not Wangari: She was a news maker whose charismatic leadership and controversial stands for noble causes, however popular or unpopular, made her front page news since the 1970s in Kenya and a headliner in international news most often in this new millennium.

This is not to say that Wangari sought the limelight. No! The woman simply sought justice and equity and the ‘best practices’ in all arenas, particularly in government – where she knew, for instance, that women deserved equal treatment to men, and jobless people were just as entitled to jobs as any other human being. Even the Greenbelt Movement grew out of Wangari’s sense of justice and the need to take care of the planet as well as the people who were suffering as a consequence of deforestation, poverty, and poor social policies that neglected the plight of the vast majority of the people.

Wangari’s first commitment was to the Kenyan people, particularly to Kenyan rural women. This I discovered way back in the late 1970s when she was Chairperson of the National Council of Women of Kenya and head of the Environment Committee which would eventually become the Greenbelt Movement.

At the time of our meeting, Wangari’s commitment to social justice for both the people and the planet was palpable; which is why I came away from that first interview (I was working for Hilary Ng’weno’s Nairobi Times at the time) feeling this was a woman who could not only become the president of Kenya one day.

I felt as if she could become President of Africa; if such a position ever came into being she’d fill the bill perfectly. She had the vision, the conviction, the brilliant ideas and the burning passion to serve as an instrument for the good of her people.

Back then, Wangari made it clear to me that leadership was not a task she took lightly. On the contrary, she had been taught by the nuns early on in her life that the blessings bestowed on her in the form of a good education and opportunities to excel were gifts she had to apply and use to advance the lives of others less fortunate than herself.

Her combination of sincerity, conviction and humility was awesome because at the time, she was already holding positions of authority and power – as head of the Veterinary Anatomy Department at University of Nairobi and as Chair of NCWK (a job that was generating jealousy and envy against Wangari who had already begun moving mountains and making waves).

And yet, what was clear even then was that she had just begun to fulfill her immense leadership capacity. And even now, I content that in spite of her becoming a world-acclaimed environmentalist as well as a grounded social activist and former Kenyan MP, Wangari had barely scratched the surface of all she could have achieved if she hadn’t been blocked so often by lesser beings who were either jealous, envious, intimidated or threatened by her honesty, intelligence and charismatic leadership and authority.

As it was Wangari achieved more in one short lifetime than most people can even contemplate: She founded one of the most important environmental movements in the world, and one that spotlighted the capacity of African rural women to problem-solve for the planet; she ran for Parliament and won (although she was sorely under-utilized by the Kibaki government); and she succeeded in battle against one civilian dictator who attempted to grab public land in the heart of Nairobi for his personal self-aggrandisement.

Her Nobel Prize in 2004 was for her successfully showing the world the clear-cut connection between resource depletion (and extraction), poverty and war. She was honored for identifying how protecting the earth’s natural resources is an important peace-making strategy

My one disappointment with Wangari is that in 1992 when the National Commission on the Status of Women called on her to run for the presidency, she declined. She noted that since she was from the same constituency as Mwai Kibaki, she didn’t want to split the vote.

But what if she had run? What if she had won? I’m convinced she could have, and then where would we be today?

We can say there is no point speculating on ‘what could have been’, but we can know and trust that Wangari’s spirit still reigns in our hearts and that her spirit is still with us.
Muthoni Garland comes closest to my notion of the ideal ‘Renaissance Woman’. She is not only a published author of novels and children’s books, a patron of the arts and an actress who’s performed at venues in Kenya and the United Kingdom.
She has also been a market researcher, advertising executive [with the Steadman Research Group], and founder-publisher of StoryMoja, the innovative, indigenous Kenyan publishing house that in two short years has energized the local literary scene in ways that can only be compared to the launching of the experimental Kenyan literary journal Kwani! several years before.
But as if all this were not enough, Muthoni is also the initiator and key organizer of the recent and highly successful Storymoja Hay Festival, which was inaugurated July 31 and held over three days at the Impala Sports Grounds under a myriad of tents similarly to the original Hay Fete held annually in Wales.
SHFK Schedule
SHFK Schedule
Like its British counterpart, the Storymoja Hay Festival featured published authors from Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and India, including one of the leading novelists writing in English today, Vikram Seth, who engaged local Kenyans in lively debate. But it also featured local filmmakers, visual and performing artists, academics, economists, environmentalists, and entrepreneurs who deliberated on everything from climate change to the impact of globalization on the Kenyan economy to the state of publishing in Africa currently.
Explaining that the Storymoja Hay Festival was actually part of a larger business plan and strategy that her team of twelve had devised at Storymoja to stimulate interest in a plethora of potent issues and relevant ideas, Muthoni is not shy to admit that the Storymoja Hay Festival also afforded a great opportunity for publishers like her to display and sell their books!
“We started Storymoja in August 2007 and for the first six months, there were practically no sales, in part because of the post-election violence,” said Muthoni who was a marketing major at Ohio University in the U.S. before returning home to Kenya to become a marketing researcher and then an advertising executive.
“So the idea was to devise new strategies that generate book sales,” said Muthoni who has already assembled a corral of promising authors including Sitawa Namwalie, Al Kags, Sunny Binda and of course, herself.
“We decided to bring our books to the people by creating events of interest to specific constituencies – for women, men, children, working women and others,” said Muthoni whose monthly “Women in Leadership” Forums have been especially successful in attracting interest and book sales among working women.
For men, Storymoja has organized workshops on the changing role of men in Kenyan society, led by Kenyan writer Oyunga Pala, which has also roused widespread interest among both women and men. The Nation newspaper’s “Mantalk” columnist discussed the same topic at Hay earlier this month, calling the theme of his workshop “Men Under Attack” and generating lively debate.
“For children, we have been running Storytelling competitions that have involved some 47 colleges and secondary schools,” said Muthoni, noting that the winner of the Nairobi Hay Spelling Bee, Joan Karimi from Precious Blood Secondary would be flown very soon to the U.K. to take part in an international spelling competition.
Storymoja also organizes storytelling session every week in order to promote children’s love for literature and for reading, as well as to stimulate book sales in local schools.
It was within the context of organizing cultural events which could serve as venues for selling books that the idea of staging Kenya’s own Hay Festival was born. But months before Muthoni went public with the idea of a Kenya Hay Fete, she was actually performing in the UK Festival in Sitawa Namwalie’s Cut Off My Tongue, the dramatized poetic masterpiece about the bane of tribalism by the former Kenyan tennis champ Betty Wamalwa Muragori.
“I read her poetry and wanted to publish it, but then our strategy is to present our writers’ work on as many different platforms as possible,” said Muthoni who was thrilled with the Kenyan response to the staged production of Cut Off my Tongue. It was performed first at the Ramoma Theatre in Parklands in July 2008; then, due to popular demand, it was re-staged at the National Museums of Kenya, performing to a crowd three times the size of the first run.
And finally, Tongue went to U.K. where nine out of ten of the original Kenyan cast performed both at Hay in May of this year and in London at the Hampsted Theatre and the Centreprise Trust.
“It was while attending the Festival that I got the idea of organizing our own,” said Muthoni who admits the Kenya fete didn’t quite compare with the Welsh one, which annually attracts 150,000 people to a ten day tented showcase of more than 500 events.
“Still, we expect next year’s Hay to be even more successful than this one,” she said.
Meanwhile, Muthoni continues to brainstorm with her team about ways they can turn their StoryMoja books into shows for TV, radio, film, animation, theatre, podcasts and even audio books, including CDs and DVDs.
In the Land of the Kitchen
In the Land of the Kitchen
Already, Oluoch Madiang’s children’s book, In the Land of the Kitchen has been made into a children’s TV show. It is one more event that Muthoni says generates excitement in the local literary world, but it does not necessarily “grow” book sales.
“Our mission is to get a book into the hand of every Kenyan” says Muthoni, who admits she’s ambitious, but she’s also got a worthy cause.
“I think what really got me charged up to launch StoryMoja was seeing how hard Binyavanga had to struggle to start up Kwani!”
Coming up with one idea to promote Kwani! sales, Muthoni suggested the creation of Kwani-ni mini book. “These little Kwani books would extract stories that had been published in the main [Kwani!] book, but sell for half the price. The idea again would be to use existing content but present it in a more affordable form to reach a wider [more middle class] market,” She said.
Muthoni’s biggest concern is build a reading public without retaining a donor dependency. “I don’t want to be caught in a situation of being stuck when some donor decides to stop funding us,” she said. “I want StoryMoja to be successfully for-profit.”
But in order to be a successful ‘for profit’ publishing house, Muthoni knows she has got to promote a reading culture in Kenya and ‘grow’ the book-reading market.
“And the only the way to do that,” she says, “is to be creative and to push the boundaries, which is what we continue to do at Storymoja.”
© Margaretta wa Gacheru 2009

Adil Karimlux: Kenya's Chief Culinary Connoisseur


Adil Karimlux is just about to head off and take his Kenyan cooking on a global journey. Globalizing Kenyan cooking is a challenge he took up years ago, as his many cookbooks reveal. But now he'll be traveling to new territories where he'll be tasked to share his unique style of Kenyan cuisine.

Adil Karimlux: Culinary Connoisseur taking Kenyan Cooking to Global Heights

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
May 25, 2012

If Adil Karimlux weren’t so camera-shy, the Nakuru-born culinary connoisseur most likely would be known today as Kenya’s equivalent of a Jamie Oliver. He’d be a celebrity chef and renowned restaurateur whose cookbooks, filled with tasty Kenyan-Indian recipes would by now have gone global on social media.
 Adil Karimlux on his balcony at his Muthaiga Garden Flat in May 2012. Pix: Margaretta 

The author of no less than four cookbooks, including A Taste of Kenyan Cooking and Food to Die For, came closest to ‘stardom’ when he worked with Susan Kamau whose Kenyan Kitchen magazine started doing food demonstrations in fabulous kitchen showrooms. If YouTube had been around back then, Adil might have become a foodie spokesman for the way Kenyan-Indian cuisine can promote healthy eating and living. 
But Adil has never sought the limelight, although he has always loved cooking and hanging out in kitchens. Initially, he’d watch and learn traditional Indian culinary tips from his grandmother, great aunt and beloved mum Aziza.
Then it was his cherished Aunt Saida who introduced him to ‘exotic foods’ like artichokes and asparagus, crab, lobster and prawn, fish thermidor and even fruit flan.
But the kitchen that made him the best known maître d’ in Nairobi for more than a decade was the one at the French Cultural Centre, now known as Alliance Francaise. That is where Adil partnered with the French chef Christian Caldara to run Le Jardin de Paris Restaurant from 1977 up until 1991.
Adil had just returned from doing a degree in Business Administration in the US when he signed up for a French language course at FCC. Christian had just got into a motorcycle accident and Adil saw he needed help both in the kitchen and in managing generally.
“The restaurant was brand new, so when Christian went for check-ups or surgery, the place would shut down. That’s how I began to step in,” Adil said.
Hired first to be Christian’s accountant, he quickly advanced to maître d’ and chief soup and sauce connoisseur, responsible for ensuring tastes were fresh and flavorful.
“But neither Christian nor I was prepared for the overwhelming success of the restaurant,’ he said. Le Jardin de Paris would host everyone from local politicians to international film stars to embassy officials and ordinary Kenyans, many of whom utilized the facilities newly established by the first FCC director Pierre Comte. 
Adil is his mini-cupboard and winery at his Muthaiga Garden flat where he does lots of Kenyan cooking for family and friends. Pix by Margaretta

The Kenyans who came were usually actors and visual artists, dancers and musicians, language students and media people, much like the crowd that Alliance Francaise attracts today.
“We were quite young,” said Adil who was just 20 when he first stepped foot in FCC. “We were preparing food order by order, so a lot of my work involved keeping people calm.”
At its peak, the restaurant had 25 tables while the kitchen had a dozen chefs plus many ‘veggie mamas’ hired to clean the salads and couscous.
One of the main reasons for Le Jardin’s success was the freshness of the food and the fact that most of the cheeses, wines, pates and even chocolates were flown in from France. So were special seeds that would be planted and grown in Limuru and Karen.
“Mrs Chege of Echuka Farms grew everything from exotic lettuces and snow peas to wild strawberries for us. She’d also bring us her yogurts and heavy creams,” Adil recalled.
But in addition to the quality of the cuisine, it was the restaurateurs, Adil and Christian who established the warm welcoming ambience at Le Jardin. And when they shifted over to Alan Bobbe’s Bistro in the 1990s, they brought the same warm welcoming style with them.
In Christian’s case, his whole family had been in the culinary business for many years. Not so for Adil whose fascination with food had been frowned upon from the time he fried his first potatoes at age five and baked his first cakes at age six. Attracted to the kitchen initially because he had no one to play with as a child, and all the vibrant activity in his home was situated there, with the women, Adil had been forbidden to frequent the kitchen.
But he did it anyway, even though it meant his dad would discipline him with a cane.
Sent to the best schools in Nakuru, Nairobi, Eldoret and the States with a view to his coming home to run the family businesses (many of which were started by his great grandfather Ibrahim who arrived in Nakuru from Punjab in the 1890s), Adil’s refusal caused a family rift that led to years of relative penury on his part.
But Adil had his culinary craft and myriad friends to fall back on. His years frequenting the family kitchen enabled him to not only run restaurants and write cosmopolitan cookbooks (since 1998) that combine Kenyan, Indian, American and even Scandinavian culinary styles. He’s also become an advocate for healthy eating and even changing lifestyles to improve Kenyan families’ quality of life.
So today, Adil may not be Kenya’s Jamie Oliver, but he has become a kind of cultural ambassador for Kenyan cooking. He just got back from India where he was able to compare his own culinary calling with the finest Indian chefs. And soon, he’ll be on tour in Southern Africa sharing his cookbooks and exposing other culinary connoisseurs to the joy of Kenyan cooking.





Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kaafiri Kariuki's Multi-layered Symbolic Surrealism


Review of Kaafiri's May 2012 one man exhibition at Nairobi National Museum coming soon. In the meantime, i include a review i wrote of another exhibition Kaafiri had in 2009 which got published in July in the Daily Nation. The 2012 review will appear here after it gets published in Business Daily shortly.

Kaafiri Kariuki has ART-RITIS

Published in 2009 Daily Nation, Nairobi

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Long before Mungiki gave dreadlocks a bad name, Kaafiri Kariuki wore them with pride and aplomb and as a trademark of his free-wheeling rasta spirit.
 Kaafiri Kariuki in May 2012 during his most recent one-man exhibition at Nairobi Museum. Pix by Marta Obiegla

Having cultivating a taste for rastafari life from his chief mentor and rehab coach, a head librarian at Egerton University that Kaafiri refers to only as ‘The Beast’, the Kenyan musician-turned-visual artist has let his hair grow without a trim since 1993. That was the year his life got turned round and art became more than a passion; it became a lifestyle and a top priority.

“I got ‘art-ritis’,” he told The Daily Nation during the last days of his “Africa Resurrect” one-man show at the French Cultural Centre in mid-July; meanwhile his “Dancing Pen” exhibition has been extended at RaMoMa Gallery in Parklands until the end of this month.

Prior to Kaafiri’s discovery of his affinity for the visual arts, particularly painting, drawing and sculpture, he had fancied his heavy metal guitar music would not just make him a star: he planned on becoming a Kenyanized clone of Jimi Hendrix! In his wildest dreams, he even imagined himself a Kenyan cousin to Elvis Presley.

But careless living and bad blood between himself and fellow musicians led to his rapid flight from a degenerate Dandora music scene in 1991 and return to his mother’s upcountry home in Nyahururu.

Fortunately, that was when Kaafiri met the Beast, discovered that he, like his mentor, had a genuine talent for painting, drawing and even portraiture. And once he got through that first ‘cold turkey’ phase of his rehabilitation, Kaafiri began to meet people who saw him first as a dread-headed rasta-man and then as a gifted artist with all sorts of latent talents which were in the process of rapidly coming to light. 

Among those who first saw Kaafiri’s untapped potential were Europeans, first a German and then a French man. The German introduced him to the mother of Bob Marley who asked him to paint a large portrait of her son (6 meters by 3 meters) which he did. Sometime later, the French man took him to France on a Lezart International Art workshop, Kaafiri being the only Kenyan artist involved.

Admitting that art has transformed his life, Kaafiri says his experience hasn’t been a breeze since he began painting. On the contrary, once the German, Dieter Batsch bought him paints and canvas, he also introduced Kaafiri to a local artists group with whom he shared all his paints. “I was left with nothing apart from my sketchbooks and a pen,” Kaafiri recalls.

But this was a blessing in disguise since he then had to resort to something he did really well, which is drawing. “That is when the ‘Dancing Pen’ was born,” he said. “Around 1997.”
 Kaafiri's African Resurrection drawing with his Dancing Pen became the front page of all my doctoral presentations on Globalizing Kenyan Culture. See the globe, Africa rising at the center, the scarabs from ancient Egypt symbolic of Africa's great past, and the children on their way to school symbolic of the future.

His one-man show at FCC as well as his contribution to a group exhibition at Ramoma celebrate more than a decade for Kaafiri with his dancing pen. “All I could do was draw in my sketch books, hoping that one day I would get paints to transfer my ideas to canvas with coloured paints.”

But before that happened, Kaafiri met a Japanese couple who insisted on buying his two sketchbooks which were filled with his intricate and multi-layered drawings. Their purchase was a life saver for Kaafiri who was practically penniless at the time.

But life has been looking up for Kaafiri ever since he came to appreciate his talent for drawing, and not just painting. Indeed, it is the delicately drawn details of his work, as well as the intricate puzzle parts of his art, that suggests a depth of insight into the contemporary African experience that few local artists express. For while Kaafiri now uses colour in most of his paintings, he still relies on imagery that has a story-telling impact.

He’s not afraid to portray poverty, prostitution and polygamy in his art. He’s also inclined to convey the contradictions of African life in his work—the huge gap between the rich and the poor, the urban elite and the impoverished peasantry. He even conveys a clear vision of how Africa is still bound to the West by inequitable neocolonial relations.

So while Kaafiri may be mistaken for a Kenyan artist who simply paints colourful pictures, what is more interesting to me about his work is the political undercurrents that emerge subtly in his art, currents that convey a depth and sensitivity on the artist’s part that one can appreciate.

Before the end of July, Kaafiri’s art will also be on display at Sipper’s Restaurant in Hurlingham. “I’d like to share my art with local people who may not make it to the galleries but who can appreciate visual art just the same.”



Theatre Company Wraps Up 7 Month Run

THE THEATRE COMPANY TOUCHES LIVES 

Actors and Scriptwriters Workshops are changing the theatrical landscape of Kenya as indigenous thespians are given opportunities, both theoretical and practical

Published May 27, 2012 in Sunday Nation, Nairobi

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

Last Friday night, The Theater Company wrapped up almost seven months of non-stop creative activity that culminating in a multifaceted showcase of plays called Fire by Ten at Kenya National Theatre.
Featuring five brand new 18 minute productions which were being seen for the first time during TTC’s ‘grand tour’ around the country, the original plays had all be written and/or devised over the December holidays of 2011. That was when TTC was running a ten-day Writers Training Workshop which was attended by aspiring as well as experienced Kenyan playwrights, led by Cajeton Boy, Ogutu Muraya and Keith Pearson, TTC’s producer.
The plays that were staged included Trees by James Gathitu, What are the Odds? by Ogutu Muraya, Ice Cream Treat by Naomi Wanjiru, Intersection by Tony Mboyo, and Mwiba, a musical devised by members of that Writers Workshop and woven together with music and dance by Sharon Nanjosi.
A scene from one of the Fire by Ten plays staged all over Kenya from March to May 2012

The response, according to TTC cast members James Gathitu and Squich Musau was overwhelmingly positive. Both obviously biased since they each had great parts in Fire by Ten, Gathitu as playwright and cast member and Squich as cast in three out of five of the plays. Yet one can feel their enthusiasm as they speak about the showcase that went on tour around Kenya and a bit of Tanzania over a three month period from March to May this year.
“We performed first in Nairobi, then went to Arusha in Tanzania, after which we came back through Naivasha and Nakuru, and lastly we performed in Eldoret before we returned in May to stage Trees and What are the Odds? one last time”.
One reason the two know Fire by Ten was well received by the public everywhere they performed is because the cast help Q & A sessions after every show.
“People were hungry to see quality theatre of the kind we brought,” said Gathitu who was recently recruited by Keith Pearson from Mombasa where he regularly performed with Kwezi Multimedia Artists and Talanta Festival.
“I was fortunate enough to take part in two [TTC] Acting Workshops since November last year,” said Gathitu, whose performance as Dan Geronimo in the historically-based play of the same name, scripted by Kenyan playwright Kuldip Sondhi, is what convinced Pearson that the actor-playwright would be perfect addition to TTC.
Held back to back, the two six-week acting workshops took place first, in Western Province, followed almost straight away by the second one held in Central.  During the break in between the two workshops, Gaithitu was also invited to take part in a Writers Workshop, which is where several exciting new scripts were born.
The idea of The Theatre Company, ever since it was started back in 2000 by Mumbi Kaigwa, was and still is to train up new crops of indigenous Kenyan actors and writers, who can transform the local theatre scene with all of their creative energy, critical insight and keenly honed originality. Those goals haven’t changed since Keith Pearson took over TTC, although the TTC program has grown and gotten ever-more multifaceted in recent times.
Currently, TTC has touched the lives of more than 400 performing artists all over the country. That includes actors, musicians and writers, according to Gathitu who has been with TTC less than a year, but in that time has felt privileged to work not only with brilliant Kenyans writers, actors and directors such as Lydiah Gitachu, Antony Mido, Ogutu Muraya, Sharon Nanjosi, Tony Mboyo, and Naomi Wanjiru among many others. He has also had the opportunity to work with visiting directors such as Robin Denault from Canada and Daniel Goldman of the UK as well.
Goldman directed the TTC cast that went to perform Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor in Kiswahili during the UK’s Cultural Olympiad, where the same play was performed in 37 languages. Sponsored by the Globe Theatre in advance of the London Olympics, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for the TTC cast. 
Theatre Company's Kiswahili version of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor was one of 37 versions of the classic performed in UK in preparation for the London Olympics.

But then, what TTC is ultimately aiming to do is inspire its own Kenyan equivalent of the British bard. It’s a heady ambition, but Gathitu and Squich both feel TTC is well on its way. Among the TTC playwrights to watch are Gathitu whose Trees was one of the five Fire by Ten scripts. So were Ogutu Muraya’s What are the Odds?,  Sharon Nanjosi’s Mwiba, Naomi Wanjiru’s Ice Cream Treat and Tony Mboyo’s Intersection.


Social Media's Impact on Marketing Kenyan Art


Marketing Kenyan Art revolutionized by Social Media

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Published May 24, 2012
Business Daily, Nairobi

Marketing of Kenyan contemporary art has historically been the weakest link in the chain of the Kenya’s creative economy as far as visual culture is concerned.

For years marketing has been dominated by Asian curio dealers or expatriate gallery owners who have kept indigenous Kenyans out of the loop connecting the patron or client to the product, the work of art itself.

“Asians art dealers used to tell clients the African artist had either moved out of town or died rather than tell the buyer where to find the artist,” recalled Patrick Kinuthia who exhibits and markets his art through various channels today, including Banana Hill Art Gallery, an art center owned by an indigenous Kenyan artist and businessman, Shine Tani. 
       Chinese visitor Liu at Banana Hill Art Gallery. Art on panels by Chilonga Haji. Pix: Qi Lin

Kinuthia also has a relative overseas who sells his paintings as prints to a market hungry to see more of African popular artistry. But he is still a rarity in the international art realm, since up until very recently, indigenous Kenyan artists were cut off from the global art market, either due to their isolation, lack of information or low level of entrepreneurial savvy.

Meanwhile, expatriates gallery owner-managers like the late Ruth Schaffner of Gallery Watatu used to buy African art on the cheap and sell it for exponentially higher prices, cutting out the artist from the financial equation altogether. That practice continues today, be it in the realm of African so-called artifacts (such as Turkana headrests which get shipped abroad illegally and in bulk by expatriate ‘culture vultures’) or artworks sold on commission by the gallery that still keeps the Kenyan artist in the dark as to who exactly his or her clients are.
 Adrian Nduma uses Facebook to market his colorufl abstract expressionist paintings. Pix: Qi Lin

But today the marketing scene is changing rapidly with the arrival of social media. Artists using Facebook, Twitter, email, and or text messaging all have instantaneous means of cutting out the middle man or woman and making their work known both locally and globally.

Nonetheless, it is still the case that some artists still market their art the old fashioned way, either by word of mouth, printed invitation sent out by snail mail, and/or posters that get put up around town, at central cultural locations such as Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute or GoDown Art Centre.
 Geraldine Robarts still prints colorful invitations, many of which go by snail mail or get hand delivered to promote her Village Market exhibition which opened May 30th in Nairobi. Pix: Mike Fairhead.

Others still rely on the public exhibitions of their art, leaving it to the gallery or art center to do the publicizing of their solo or group shows. That can be effective, especially if those art venues employ social media to let their clients, friends and followers know about upcoming exhibitions.

Some artists find that having private showings at the homes of serious art clients can be quite an effective means of marketing their art and making sales. But those artists tend to be a minority. For instance, in March, William Wambugu showed his artwork at the private home of Samantha Ripa di Meana in Westlands. In April, Peter Mburu cultivated an American client who kindly introduced him to her friends in private settings. Both women have also taken the artists under their wing and sponsored public exhibitions for them: Wambugu’s at Ripa di Meana’s Contemporary Roots Gallery in Brussels, Mburu’s at the Nairobi National Museum.

But not too many Kenyan artists have such special relationships with their clients. Ripa di Meana is one of the few expatriates who sees herself as an “agent” working exclusively to advance Wambugu’s artistic career.

Otherwise, William Ndwiga, founder-director of the Little Art Gallery believes that “Kenya’s creative economy is not yet advanced to the stage where we can easily have agents managing artists’ careers. Artists can’t yet afford to confine themselves to business ties with just one agent,” he said.

Gallery Watatu’s acting director Osei Kofi differs a bit with Ndwiga on this point however. He is hoping, after relocating Gallery Watatu from Nairobi’s City Center to Spring Valley by the end of this year, to establish exclusive agent-artist relations with a number of Kenyan artists.

Kofi has tried this style of operating before with a host of Kenyan artists, but very few have stuck to the verbal agreement made with the Ghanaian-born former Weekly Review journalist-turned-galleriest.

The closest thing to a successful agent-artist relationship is happening at OneOff Gallery where the former co-director of the now defunct RaMoMa Museum, Carol Lees, has well established yet loose relations with a range of what she considers first-tier Kenyan artists, such as Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia, Beatrice Njoroge, Timothy Brooke and Peterson Kamwathi.

One of the first galleries in Nairobi to use social media in the form of email and Facebook, OneOff’s success can also be attributed to Lees’ longstanding track record. She opened her gallery in 1993. And even during the years when she managed and curated RaMoMa (her co-founder/director was the well-known Kenyan artist Mary Collis), she kept One Off on the back burner. That way, when she left RaMoMa in late 2009, she had a vast online international client network which had expanded over time.  

Meanwhile, what increasing numbers of local artists have chosen to do instead is practice a kind of ‘open door policy’ out of their home studios. This is what has been happening with artists such as Peterson Kamwathi, Richard Kimathi, Anthony Okello, and even Peter Kenyanya, who have moved out of Kuona Trust to establish their own solo studios where they welcome clients who either casually drop by or call first and make an appointment.

Some of those who have moved out of Kuona Trust have also established new art centers of their own. Patricia Njeri Ndungu did it when she set up Kilele Arts in Ruaka two years ago. Michael Wafula also did it when he set up Kijiji Arts Studio around the same time in Kayole.

Adrian Nduma never associated directly with any of the local art centers before he opened his studio-gallery to visitors and prospective clients. Instead, he actually came from a banking background. He got his first university degree in Art Education from Kenyatta, taught briefly, but then recognized the wisdom of learning more about business, preparing (either consciously or unconsciously) to apply that knowledge (with MBA studies as well) to the business of marketing his own art.

Now Nduma also operates his own Bonzo Art Gallery as well as exhibiting at local venues, such as the Nairobi National Museum (where he had a one-man show earlier this month), the Osteria in Karen and the Talisman Restaurant where he is currently holding a show of his colorful abstract expressionist paintings.

Like an increasing number of Kenyan artists, Nduma is using social media to market his art. He uses everything from text messaging to email to Facebook. He doesn’t have his own website, like a few local artists do, including Kamwathi (www.kamwathi.com) and Peter Kenyanya (www.sculpturekenya.co.ke). But he does have his own Facebook page for his Bonzo gallery.

One of the most innovative art marketing strategies using Facebook devised by a Kenyan artist is Michael Soi’s. Even before he shifted from Kuona Trust to the GoDown Art Center, Soi was putting his partially painted works of art on Facebook practically every day.

Our privilege as his Facebook friends was to watch a painting progress day by day. Engaging his audience in the process by so doing, Soi has helped teach his public, be they local or global, about what’s involved in painting a work of art.
It doesn’t hurt that his paintings tend to be slightly titillating at the same time as they are storytelling about Nairobi night life. But by familiarizing his audience with a work over time, he enhances the prospect of someone also wanting to buy his finished work of art.

So what social media is frankly doing is enabling Kenyan artists to control the marketing of their art, to increasingly eliminate the middle man and gain their independence as art marketers.

Artists are increasingly able to address both global and local art markets without waiting for a third party to promote their work or maybe not.

“Social media has revolutionized art marketing,” said Shine Tani, director of Banana Hill Art Gallery, who primarily relies on email to inform more than 2000 of the gallery’s friends and prospective patrons about upcoming exhibitions.

A Kenyan artist cum entrepreneur who has been painting since the 1980s when his first patron was Ruth Schaffner, Shine had felt the pain of being subject to middle men’s (and women’s) manipulation to the point where self-reliance has been his goal as an art dealer/marketer for many years.

Shine and his wife Rahab started Banana Hill Art Studio out of their home in the early 1990s, registered as a legal entity in 1994, and were doing okay till they got some donor funding early in the 2000s. The Studio almost died due to internal strife and external interference. Fortunately, what saved the art center was its becoming a more business-like operation. “We started to see art as a business, not as a project to be funded by a foreign donor [for pennies].” Shine said.

Another Kenyan who sees art as an ‘industry’, part of the up-and-coming Kenyan creative economy, is William Ndwiga. He defines himself not an artist, but explicitly as an art marketer, someone who works with a wide cross-section of local artists, not as an agent, but as an advocate and promoter.

Ironically, one of Ndwiga’s most effective marketing strategies is the old fashioned word-of-mouth, networking style of communicating with prospective patrons of East African art on a one-on-one basis.

Aiming to break into a still largely untapped market niche of middle class Kenyans, Ndwiga has made it his marketing ‘mission’ to create awareness of not only the investment value of art, but also its functionality in their homes and their “need” (albeit possibly not yet recognized) to include art in their newly acquired middle class lifestyle.

Admitting his work is a slow process, Ndwiga says his marketing strategy is multifaceted and doesn’t simply involve the quick fix of texting, phoning or emailing his fellow Kenyans. Instead, he takes Kenyan contemporary art into indigenous Kenyans’ homes for what he calls ‘An Afternoon of Art with a Small Circle of Friends’. By so doing, he aims to gradually introduce African art to Kenyans who may know nothing about it, but among friends, don’t feel uncomfortable about exploring what it means.

His goal he says is nothing less than raising their awareness that spending tens or even hundreds of thousands on one work of art is a smart idea. Thus far, he has been quite successful in the process. Among the artists whose works he has sold are those of Peterson Kamwathi, Peter Elungat, Patrick Kamwathi, Beatrice Njoroge, Emily Odongo and Wanyu Brush among others.

So while there is little doubt that social media is transforming the art marketing landscape for Kenyans, creating a far more global market range for them to throw their hats into, artists still face challenges in marketing their work.
 Margaretta on the back of a piki piki 'boda boda' after trekking out to Paa ya Paa Art Centre for an old fashioned face-to-face meeting with gallery owners Elimo and Phillda Njau.

Often, one will find online that foreign agents who have bought Kenyan artworks for peanuts are on the internet marketing their art just as Ruth Schaffner used to do, for astronomical prices, not a penny of which comes back to the local artist.

But an art entrepreneur like Shine Tani is philosophical about such practices. It may be that Todd Schaffer (www.insideafricanart.com)  is making money off of Kenyan artworks in America or Ed Cross (www.edcrossfineart.com) is doing the same marketing Kamwathi in the UK and Michel van Helsdingen (www.nzuriart.com) the same in the Netherlands. But each of them in their own way is promoting Kenyan contemporary art, and that is good for the locals both in the short and long run, Shine says.

Samuel Githui. Kenyan Artist of Record @ OneOff


ZEBRA CROSSINGS, WHERE RICH AND POOR MEET

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
May 2012

Samuel Githui has attended art residencies in Italy and seen what international artists ask for and often obtain on the European art market. His art is even in permanent museum collections overseas.
 Samuel Githui's Kusimama na Kumi is on show at OneOff Gallery through end of May 2012. Pix: Marta Obiegla

Yet by bringing a comparable pricing scale back with him to Kenya, Githui’s art may be beautiful, even thought-provoking, but the price-tag may be more than a Nairobi art market will bear.

Currently, at OneOff Gallery (in Roslyn), several of his paintings are selling for nearly KSh900,000: Mitungi, Nyororo, and Kusimama na Kumi which ironically are all reflective of the more humble side of Nairobi life, a world Githui knows well.

   Samuel Githui's Mitungi at OneOff Gallery through end of May 2012. Pix by Marta Obiegla
For Githui is a guy who had to drop out of Creative Arts Centre in the early 1990s for want of school fees. He went to work as a sign writer, painting billboards and logos for Softa soda, BAT and even Trust condoms.

He tried his luck with Gallery Watatu when Ruth Schaffner was still around. Yet the only way she would look twice at his artwork was when he shifted his style to something that appeared more untutored and naïve. By so doing, his work got into the initial East African Industries for East African Art exhibition in 1995.

It also led to an invitation from Rob Burnet to join Kuona Trust at the outset. Unfortunately, the promise made to provide art materials to struggling local artists was kept for only two weeks, according to Githui.

“After that, we were told to bring our own art supplies, which I couldn’t afford.” Plus bus fare from Donholm where he still lives to the Museum and back on a daily basis was also prohibitive.
                         Samuel Githui's Rasta, a Rastafarian. Pix by Marta Obiegla

Githui’s big break came in 1998 when a fellow artist, Dishon Obok, introduced him to Family Planning Private Sector, the NGO founded by Dr. Erick Krystal which since the 1980s had been enlisting local artists annually to help create socially meaningful calendars.

The year he started painting for FPPS, the social message artists were asked to illustrate was on corruption. Githui’s painting, called Land Grabbing won him KSh20,000, which at the time was big money to him. It gave him incentive to paint for FPPS for several more years.
One of Githui's best examples of the contrast in Nairobi between rich and poor, skyscrapers vs matatus. Pix: Marta Obiegla

Meanwhile, Transparency International also took note of his powerful political art which revealed the consequences of corruption, especially its impact on children and the growing social inequality.

In his current OneOff show, called Zebra Crossing, Githui returns to the theme of social inequality. Yet he does so with subtlety and understatement.
 Bamba (Air time): A man stands in line to buy airtime for his cell phone. Pix: Marta Obiegla

For instance, one might want one of his works out of appreciation for his cross-hatch technique of painting with contrasting hues of light and dark. You need not know the contrast is symbolic of Zebra Crossing intersection, which is just about the only place in Kenya, he notes, where the rich and the poor meet!

Think about it: the man on foot, on a bike, a boda boda, loading a wheel barrow, or waiting to board a bus. All are pictured in Githui’s paintings, yet none of them regularly encounter a rich man except on the road, where supposedly the pedestrian has the right of way.
               Kwa Mataa: Waiting for the Traffic Light to Change. Pix by Marta Obiegla

Ironically, the rich man is barely visible in Githui’s art. Instead, it’s filled with humble folk: many men on bicycles, one with hessian sacks (Gunia) at the back, another riding in the pouring rain (Mvua Kali), another stuck with a broken chain (Nyororo).

He’s painted casual laborers (Vibarua) wondering where to go next, a family on foot loaded with all their belongings (Bwana na Bibi) and a young lad waiting in line to buy 20 bob of airtime (Bamba), symbolic, Githui says Bamba is symbolic since youth generally have much to say about solving Kenya’s social problems, but no one’s listening.
 One of my favorite paintings by Githui is Mifuko, bags, just because my dear mama was a Bag Lady. Pix: Marta Obiegla

Zebra Crossing is filled with images of busy Nairobi life, like Ya Leo which is a portrait of a mitumbia (second hand clothes) seller scrubbing his wares so they look like ‘new’ once he takes them to the street for sale.

The only evidence of the Big Man in the show is Kanjo, which is Sheng for the scary City Council guys who drive around in large Land Rovers and demand bribes from the locals.

Currently preparing for the next East African Biennale in Bujumbura, he just took part in this year’s EAB in Kigale, the only Kenyan attending. Locally, he’s exhibited at Nairobi National Museum, at Gallery Watatu, the late RaMoMa Museum and Le Rustique restaurant.

Having exhibited both locally and abroad, Githui has come a long way since he dropped out of CAC. But he still lives in Donholm and stays in close range of glaring inequalities of Kenyan everyday life. His portraits are powerful reflecting people’s struggles to cope with the harsh realities of their lives.
 The Loft at OneOff Gallery ironically is above the main exhibition area where Carol Lees holds cosy gallery openings almost every month. Pix: Marta Obiegla

Danish Filmmaker's Focus on Kibera Kids

VIBEKE MUASYA: LOST AND FOUND IN AFRICA

By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Appeared in Daily Nation’s Zuqka, Nairobi
May 25, 2012

Ever since her film “Birds of Passage” was short-listed for an Academy Award in 2002, the Danish director and scriptwriter Vibeke Muasya has attended to the Cannes Film Festival in France every year.
            Vibeke Muasya, Award-winning Danish Filmmaker/Director. Pix by Marta Obiegla

Every year except for this one, that is, because the day Cannes opened this year (May 16th), the filmmaker of Lost of Africa (Kidnappet in Danish) was here in Kenya organizing her second feature film, which will follow a similar track to Kidnappet in that it will include a mostly Kenyan cast and crew.

“In the case of Lost in Africa, I was compelled to respect the wishes of the film’s sponsors [namely the Danish and Swedish National Film Institutes, DANIDA and Danish TV] to hire at least one of their nationals to work on it. So we hired a Swedish production designer who used to work with Ingmar Bergman and a Danish director of photographer who worked for years with Tyler Perry,” said Vibeke whose independent film cost a ‘mere’$4 million to make and who has been winning awards for her films ever since she made her first, The Tulip Night, in 1999.

“In all, there were eight Europeans working on the set of Lost in Africa, but the other 177 cast and crew were Kenyan,” said the Danish artist whose Kamba last name derives from her having stayed married to Charles Kyalo Muasya, a professional Danish-based journalist, for more than 20 good years.

“We met in Copenhagen when he saw me dancing in a Canadian ballet,” said Vibeke, who was a professional ballet dancer, choreographer and graduate of the Swedish Royal Ballet School before she got into film.

“Charles had come to Denmark at age six with his father. His mother Esther remained at home in Kitui and he was raised by a Danish woman who forbad his speaking either Kikamba or Kiswahili. So in a sense, I am closer to his Kenyan family than he is,” said the award-winning film-maker whose film career has been profoundly influenced by her Kenyan connection.  
For instance, her first short film, [The Tulip Night,] came about after she witnessed the way old people were treated in Kenyan culture in contrast to their mistreatment and neglect in Danish society. “In Kenya, the elderly are treated with dignity and respect. The opposite is true in Denmark where the aged are often shuffled off to old people’s homes after which they’re essentially forgotten.”

Her film career began almost inadvertently. She drafted the script in response to her own grandfather’s tragic experience of being cast off by his family once he got Alzheimer’s and became senile.

“I never expected such a positive response to the [30 minute] film, but it went on to win multiple awards, and everything changed in my life after that,” said Vibeke whose marriage didn’t survive long thereafter.

“Charles and I had lived together in Denmark and Sweden where he managed my modern ballet company. But after I got into film, things didn’t work out. Our relationship ended amicably and I am very close to his Kitui family,” said the mother of two, Benji, 24, and Gabriella, 20, both of whom plan to move to Kenya for keeps.

Vibeke was in Kenya not only to prepare for her next film project, the first in Denmark to feature an African man in the leading role. She officially came to Kenya to be present for the screening of her first feature film, Lost in Africa at the 21st European Film Festival hosted by the Alliance Francaise. 

The film, which was shot both in Denmark and Kenya, had its first showing on Saturday, May 12 in Kibera, which is where the Kenya portion of the film was primarily set.

Vibeke arrived in Nairobi just hours before Lost in Africa was shown in the open air for around 1,000 Kibera residents, both adults and children who were clearly delighted to see their neighborhood and their peers on film. (Subsequent Saturdays in May, the film will be shown in Korogocho and Mathare.)

Vibeke was still in Nairobi on Friday, May 18, when her film had its (second) Nairobi premiere at Alliance Francaise. The first took place without much fanfare in December 2011 at the Nakumatt Prestige Plaza.

“After I won the Golden Elephant in Hydrabad [India] for Best Director [and Lost in Africa also got a Silver Award for Best Film] in 2011, I was asked if Kenyans had yet seen my film. After admitting it hadn’t, I realized we couldn’t wait for the Kenyan production company, [Pontact] to organize the Kenyan premier, so we went ahead and did it ourselves,” she said.

Wanting to write a script that portrayed the plight of African children orphaned by AIDS, Vibeke was again moved by the jarring contrast between children raised in the comfort of middle class Europe and the harsh reality of African children orphaned by AIDS.

The film is about a Danish family that adopts an AIDS orphan from Kenya when he was just a few months old. Brought up Danish, the parents decide to take him back to his homeland where he gets lost, and the plot unfolds from there.

“I wanted to portray every mother’s deepest fear, that of losing their child in a distant land,” said Vibeke who filmed Lost in Africa in Kibera between January and March 2010. Since then, the film has been shown at no less than 38 film festivals around the world and won a minimum of 12 international awards.

Her next film, Nobody Needs Flowers, is likely to be as powerful as Kidnappet, if not even more so. Focused on the Kenyan cut flower industry, Vibeke again aims to bridge two worlds, a working class world in Ireland and a major export industry in Kenya.

“I’m already deep into researching my next film,” said Vibeke who claims that once she completes one project, she’s quick to move onto the next.

Not wanting to give too much of the plot away, she nonetheless notes that she has already cast the leading lady. It’s Siobhan Fallon Hogan, who’s acted in films like Forest Gump and Men in Black among others.

“She plays a blue collar worker in a grocery story that sells cut flowers and wins a safari to Lake Naivasha where between 75%  to 85% of Europe’s cut flowers come from,” she said.

Insisting that her films are all about the way we are all connected in an increasingly globalized world, Vibeke’s life is a reflection of that inter-connectedness. The reality of her being a modern Western woman traversing two worlds is the theme of the autobiographical screen play she wrote in 2005.

By 2006, the film rights to ‘A Bit of Sunshine’ were bought by HBO and Vibeke was airlifted to Los Angeles where she was meant to consult on the making of her film. But once they tried to Americanize her character, the project went downhill from there.

“That is when I felt terribly homesick for Kenya,” said Vibeke who actually wrote Lost in Africa while being “lost” in Hollywood.

“The Americans were not interested in the script, but the Danes were asking me to come home so we could do the film,” she said.

Today, she says she is profoundly grateful to the Danish National Film Institute whose grassroots film unit gave her free equipment and technical support after accepting her first film script in the late 1990s.

It was that initial acceptance that gave her the incentive to make The Tulip Night on a shoestring and transformed her whole life. In fact, Vibeke’s life reads a bit like a fantastic fairy tale, where every film she has made and released since her first has won international awards, from The Tulip Night and Birds of Passage to Benji’s Adventure and Lost in Africa

Amazingly, her success has not gone to her head. Instead, she’s incredibly down to earth and delighted to work side by side Kenyans whose stories she’s happy to tell, even as she sees them at the center of a globalizing world.