TAKE 5 Awuor Onyango

Thursday July 14 2016

Awuor Onyango is a writer and visual artist whose work explores self-perception, inclusion by erasure and history. PHOTO | COURTESY

Awuor Onyango is a writer and visual artist whose work explores self-perception, inclusion by erasure and history. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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Awuor Onyango is a writer and visual artist whose work explores self-perception, inclusion by erasure and history.

Her work was featured in Chouftouhonna, a festival for feminist art in Tunis, Tunisia. She will take part in the SHE-an art exhibition to be held in London in July, and Accra, Ghana, in August. Her writing has been featured in Jalada Africa as well as other journals. She was also featured in the British Council Global List 2016 as one of 33 most inspiring activists/filmmakers. 

1. If you could pick a word to describe your art, what would it be?

Experimental. I think that is the word I am most comfortable with. I’ve had arguments around labelling art, you know, Afrosurreal or Afrofuturist or feminist. They are wonderful but restricting terms that don’t really communicate something (to my parents for example). I was taught to honour the message as opposed to the form it takes.

Communication is key. My mum understands the term experimental as opposed to Afrosurreal or Afrofuturist. It doesn’t matter if it’s fabric design or a motion-triggered installation; it’s all an experiment. 

2. You dabble in film as well. Are you ever going to leap into that completely?

I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, film of course combines about four of my loves; writing, photography, design (set/fashion/sound) and telling people what to do or as film people call it “directing”. My first film will be out sometime this year. I am incorporating film into my art through video art and net art. I don’t see myself exclusively working with film though. Art is in essence an expression, and it’s my job as the artist to use the best tools at my disposal to convey it. 

3. What does it feel like to have your art exhibited intercontinentally?

I have mixed feelings about it. We live in a hyperglobalised world, so on the one hand, even if I don’t have space in Nairobi to show my work, there’s bound to be someone somewhere who will give it space. I’m always excited to share my work outside the country just to see what connections people outside my context make. It’s always been my goal to connect with Africans in and out of the continent, so I tend to prioritise those type of audiences. 

4. What do you think is feminism’s biggest external encumbrance in modern day society?

Other than Patriarchy? I would say compassionate communication skills. Gaslighting is the bane of my existence and is actually a form of emotional abuse that we have (in Nairobi but perhaps also worldwide) ushered into public policy.

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Acha umama” then you know what I am talking about. You can see this in many forms, in the normalisation of Team Mafisi and Men Against Weaves and Men’s Rights Activists and even in allies and within the movement itself. 

5. What are the chances that our politicians won’t let us down next year?

Tom Mboya once said he was fighting for our right to misrule ourselves. I remind myself to be patient that way; but it’s been more than 50 years and I think we’re taking misrule a bit too far.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we’ve managed really well for a bunch of ethnicities that were forced into this inglorious marriage called Kenya by an “empire” that has always been built on war and murder. I just have little faith in Machiavellian politics.