Who am I?
My official name is Naomi Wanjiru, my alter ego is lonesomebounty. As lonesomebounty, I tell stories through performance- dance, acting, singing, playing instruments- and written words. I have been telling stories since I was a child. My mother famously tells the story of how as a baby I would be fond of crying. She tried all sorts of medicine thinking that perhaps I was in pain. Finally she had to take me to the doctor, who pronounced me healthy. But why was I crying so much? My concerned mother asked. The doctor laughed and said that I was just trying to talk. I was telling them baby stories.
In 2006, I had just finished high school with two years of nothing much to do. I met Obilo Ngongo who was meant to show me how to apply for a scholarship to Japan to study engineering. My mother’s idea. Instead, he introduced me to the world of theater.
The first play I did was a commercial flop. The feeling of standing on a podium while people looked at me was scary, exhilirating and magical. I got into more plays with the various theater production houses in Nairobi. I acted for students in High schools and for the general audiences. At that time not many people watched plays, my friends would come watch me and later on, they would bug me for more. They loved the experience as well.
Along the way, I started doing African traditional dance at the Kenya National Theater. Through that, I joined the dance forum at the Godown arts center in Nairobi. It was hard doing contemporary African dance, I enjoyed the challenge.
Theater productions led to movies and Tv Soap Operas. And a Christmas billboard advert for coca cola in 2008.
At the same time, I made many friends in all scenes of art. I hang out with painters, sculptors, photographers, dancers, movie makers, journalists, curators. They all asked me? So what is your art about?
Thinking about what my art is about got me to realize the role of art and artists in society. Why we create and tell stories.
Standing on stage opened up the world of actively engaging the minds of people. Fellow artists made me realize what it all meant. I stood aside for a while to understand all this for myself.
The power of art
Joseph Campbell in the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces examined folk stories from all around the world “to let the symbols they represent speak themselves”. In the introduction to the book in 1949 he said that stories carry symbols which hold the truth through which man has lived through the millenniums since the dawn of humanity.
Clarrisa Pinkola Estes, Phd, in the 2004 commemorative edition of the book states that stories are the language through which the human soul communicates. Through stories we discover ourselves and what makes us human. Stories inspire people to action especially when that action is perceived as a difficulty.
Real meaningful change for the better takes time and energy, it is a difficulty. It also requires as many people as possible to believe in and act on it. Stories inspire us to action and bring us together as human beings, so that we can overcome our challenges.
This is the work of art. To mirror the acts of society so that people can reach a deeper understanding of life. When that happens then change comes from within and is lasting.
What kinds of converstations?
When my friends asked me, what my art is about, they were asking me what I seek to portray in society. What kind of conversation did I want to engage society in?
I had to look within myself for that. It is easier to talk about things that one is passionate about. The first thing I had to ask myself is who I am and what I seek to be. Life only lasts for a certain period of time. What did I seek to achieve within that given time? What was the context of my actions? Where was I and who was I seeking to engage?
I started with my memories pushing as far back as I could remember myself. I realised that I grew up in a world that is quickly disappearing. I grew up at the foot of the Ngong hills in Kiserian and Ongata Ronkai. The land was open as far as the eye could see. You could see the sky and all the changes that happen there when the sun is up, when the moon is there and when the stars gleam. I remember sitting in the shamba eating managu berries to my fill and later on watching the sun as it set. Sometimes, we could go to the river to wash clothes and sometimes to I would sneak to go swim with the boys. Sometimes, I would stand in awe as I watched clouds of butterflies pass by.
I grew up in a wonderful world and it is disappearing.
Recently, I started climbing the Ngong hills and up there things are still intact. I have taken friends and they are awed to see land disappear in the horizon like the ocean. We fetch sweet drinking water by the springs on Ngong Hills.
When I compare this to where I now live, with plastic bags chocking the grass and the river and buildings that do not let in the warmth of the sun, I cannot help but feel something is wrong. Surely the river can be clean once more, the plasctic can stop polluting the grass and we can build houses where we enjoy living.
Starting to think about making these kinds of changes in society can be overwhelming. As I found out about my local river, the plastic that floods the river is there because people have been dumping waste at the spring source of the river. There is a growing slum nearby. Some home owners deposit raw sewage into the river. The whole community is involved. It is simply a culture. We accept that it is that way, some people are surprised that the river could be cleaned up. They have never seen a clean river in their lives. Or can’t seem to remember seeing one.
The basis of the problem is our relationship to where we live and how we think about it. The solution needed requires a cultural shift. As an artist, I am a cultural practitioner. I am aware of mediums of culture since they are the tools of my trade. These are the words and images. The symbols through which we extract and communicate meaning from our inner and outer worlds.
My art is about where we live, the history of who we are and how we can take command of who we want to be as a society. Our world is changing very fast and the old problems have taken new forms. As we are becoming more and more interconnected through globalization, we are also facing the same problems as humanity. Climate change is a big one. Our problems have become global and we need to innovate solutions for them. Global solutions.
It took me a while to come to the above realization. When I did, I noticed that I did not have the knowledge on how to actualize my ideas. All the same I started, trusting that I would get help when I would need it. This help has come through the Amani Institute.
They are seeking to train people on how to think about these problems (or rather opportunities) and how to come up with the solutions needed. Change must be sustained and it takes a long time to create it. If you go about it the wrong way, it is easy to exhaust yourself and give up on the way.
Amani Institute is offering me the education to create real meaningful change. For example one of the course deals with bio-empathy. We learn from nature. Our innovations are already there in nature, all we have to do is to observe and translate them into solutions for human beings. All the more reason why we should strive to preserve our environments and the creatures and plants that we co-exist with.
Courage, empathy, vision and change making are the qualities Amani Institute is looking for in their students. The instructors will be people who have engaged in social entrepreneurship and will be speaking from experience. The Amani experience promises to take me through experietal learning, professional skill building and the leader’s journey, so that I can implement my big idea of using art for social change.
I need your help
The Amani Institute is looking for only 15 people from all over the world. I not only got in, but I also earned a 50% scholarship! Isn’t it wonderful? Now, I need your help to raise the rest of the money which is USD 3250 which is roughly equivalent to KES 300, 000/=
How can you help?
Please donate. For those in East Africa please M-pesa me on this line 0726 38 10 70.
You could help me by asking your generous family and friends to contribute.
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