Art and creativity are a source of hope - guard your right to value them

Monday November 20 2017

By NANJIRA SAMBULI
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The political purgatory we find ourselves in can feel endless, and anything that promises to end it captures popular imagination.

These are really interesting times for intellectual cultivation, or degradation. What will change or remain the same?

This edge of chaos has forced me to really search for and hold on to any glimmer of hope. Today’s political space has very little to offer in that regard, so I’ve spent hours on end digging deep within my thoughts, and picking other people’s brains in a quest for some genuine things to appreciate about ‘Project Kenya’, flaws and all.

Silver linings are emerging from unusual spaces, as opposed to ‘usual spaces’ which have been bound in unsustainable norms and paths that are now being resisted and rejected.

While government and other actors may have invested time, effort and resources in the ‘hard stuff’ (infrastructure and such), it’s the ‘soft stuff’ that may perhaps get us to the desired finish line.

One silver lining I see is that Kenyans from all corners and generations are bouncing back and daring to project their creative energies.

They are doing it despite subtle and unsubtle attempts - systematic or otherwise - to suppress the Arts and artistic inclination.

A decade or two ago, the suppression of creativity in any artistic field was palpable, from individual to policy level. Recall the failed attempts to design a national dress, for instance.

In music, it has been argued that we don’t have a ‘Kenyan sound’ as compared to some of our African counterparts whose characteristic styles can be identified within the first couple of beats.

REHABILITATING OUR ABILITY

These supposed ‘weaknesses’ are emerging as unlikely strengths. Our absorbent cultural tendencies are producing hybrid, as-yet indefinable outputs in virtually all creative sectors. We may not have a Kenyan musical sound, but we have artistes defying genres and moulds, and setting standards locally, regionally and even globally.

We may not have a Kenyan dress, but you walk around and see borrowed styles combine with new ideas, and flourish into beautiful expressions. Literature from Kenyan authors is laden with stylistic devices that help us revisit the past and imagine the future.

Kenyans online are one massive creative agency; humour guaranteed!

In spite of the political turmoil we face, these few wins for the freedom to express ourselves are rehabilitating our ability to value art and creativity, and it is truly refreshing.

Over time, I think this will propel more public and private spaces for anyone – young or old – to explore, or reclaim their love of art and creativity; they won’t always be looked down upon as they have been.

All this is teeing up to a potential major asset, especially for our foreign policy, technology and even cultural positioning. Never mind that we seem to be backtracking altogether on education policy.

Attracting foreign direct investment – the stuff of policymakers’ dreams and nightmares – should view the above as a selling point. Any government can attain a decent ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index.

SAVING GRACE

Creativity is the sauce for innovation and for offering a legitimate strategic advantage and competitive edge, and without people-centred strategies, the government is building more castles in the already stolen sand.

Kenyans are correcting course towards a redefined authenticity around creativity. Our past and present experiences and our outward-looking proclivities for seeking inspiration combine to not only ensure our survival in these testing times, but also –with policy vision- to lock down avenues for prosperity.

Our collective creativity, allowed to manifest, is easily the stuff of ‘Brand Kenya 2.0’, a Kenya marketed and projected authentically around our experiences and creative energies, not just a performance for an external gaze with the obligatory lion and elephant in the background.

Somewhere within policymaking quarters, however, influential actors from regimes past who may very well have spearheaded the suppression of arts and expression as a means of keeping us governable, remain.

But if a few policymakers get it, there is hope that we can yet enshrine the creative economy, in its diverse manifestations, as a contributor to GDP growth and other metrics that excite the bureaucracy.

So hope may still spring eternal. Whichever way the tides lead us, I will continue to appreciate and look out for the uncanny ways ‘Project Kenya’ may have worked, away from political and economic capture.

As we journey on, a parting word of encouragement to all: guard your right to value art and creativity. Nurture it and explore it. It is a saving grace that will pay forward.

Twitter: @NiNanjira