I Found LOCOLIZE!

Try setting up a skype meeting for three insanely busy girls and what you get is pure frustration. That is what I feel right now after trying fruitlessly to set a up a skype meeting between Teresa, Ogake and I, the founders of LOCOLIZE. Teresa is that girl on the right with weird frames and Ogake must be in her studio right now. I am sitting at my desk in Stellenbosch, South Africa and will shortly reveal to you why I am writing this post.

Let me first introduce myself properly. I was born and raised as Lorraine Amollo though I now prefer to call myself Amolo Artist. Sadly this new name has not caught on yet. My reasons for acquiring the name Artist is to convince people that I am indeed an Artist. But when I am not a struggling artist, I am actually a fortunate academic with a PhD scholarship to study at one of the premier universities in Africa: University of Stellenbosch.

My background is in industrial design. I love making things and enjoy seeing how people use things. That is how I came to research on sustainability issues because I now see that the way we use things has to change.

Ogake’s story is even more interesting than mine. What with a degree from UCA, (University for the Creative Arts) in Rochester UK where she honed her skills in fashion design. Her work is to die for and LOCOLIZE is the better for having her. If you don’t believe me then check out her FB page and decide for yourself.

You already know about the other girl Teresa seeing as she is the brains behind LOCOLIZE and hitherto, the writer in this blog.

So I was trying to set up the skype meeting for the three of us because:
One: I am in South Africa and the other two are in Nairobi, Kenya
Two: We need to discuss all matters LOCOLIZE which includes a book chapter for a tertiary level design publication to be launched next year during the World Design Capital 2014!
And three: We just need to catch up because we friends.

Let me get off here with a word of caution to anyone remotely interested in African art and design: If you are not keeping tabs on what LOCOLIZE is about to do then you might miss out on something really cool. And it is not just cool because the three ladies behind it are phenomenal; it is cool because it could be the launching pad for the next generation of Africa’s greatest artists and designers.

Well, read my post with a pinch of salt but do give it some thought.

Inception 2013

It was a great opportunity to be invited by The School of Art & Design  to be a guest MC for this years Inception Awards Ceremony.

What was more amazing was the talent showcased. My favorite was the runway fashion show that had 4th year students showcase their work. Congrats to the finalists winners Martha Ayiit, Yvette Anyango and Waithira Kibuchi!  Joan Ogake, (their Fashion lecturer) must be doing something right.

This year the sponsors were extremely generous (the top finalist won a sewing machine from Designing Africa!). Surprisingly, the OMG Vlisco was also in the house to also shared an impromptu award to the finalists of the runway fashion designers! I would kill just for a few meters of their fabulously renowned Dutch wax fabrics. Other sponsors included, Suzie’s Beauty, Locolize, Ogake, True Love & Drum Magazine, Design 40, Photo Magic, EXP, Xtreme, Insyder, Ashleys, Bombolulu, Capital FM, ColMak and many others.  

These students need our support and it was great to see that this year the number of sponsors had increased. More so, we as designers need to do all we can in supporting these emerging designers to be well prepared as they venture into the industry to pursue their chosen career. There is a Swahili saying that says, ‘Kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba’. Indeed,  it is such attempts that are encourage and inspire these future professional designers. We need more of these events and mentorship forums. We need to inspire our young African designers to be able to embrace the world and create works of art that compete on a global platform. We are short of African Leonardo Da Vincis, Bachs or Walter Gropiuses. 

This is the inception. This is the start of something big. Lets groom the next generation of future Designers!

NB: I proudly dedicate todays post to my college, University of Nairobi, Design School. The school hugely contributed to my being the designer I am today. Asante. Please visit http://arts-design.uonbi.ac.ke/

 

13 cows + 1 goat

Today I write in dismay! In a good way though.

Yes, it’s strange how one grows up assuming they know their customs and are rudely shocked to discover that they are quite wrong. This has just happened to me.

Well, in the past few weeks, my family broke down to me about the customs and traditions of Bukusu dowry. This is because, I have to share this information with my soon to be inlaws and of course given my uptown upbringing I was clueless on what transpired. So of course as the full information was being given to me, I was agog at how elaborate it all was.

Lets just say that this is when I have come closest to knowing what it takes to marry a Bukusu (my tribe) woman. Traditions and customary symbolism hit me smack on the face.

To think that I was this know-it-all urban, sophisticated, practicing Catholic brought up lady – with no chance of me relating to my Luhya ethnic aspects… I was so wrong. In fact I realized that there was actually more to making ‘attempts’ at speaking the language. As the fascinating facts were shared I just got mesmerized by it all.

I was wide-eyed as my cousin broke down to me, what seemed like an endless list of items that I needed to ‘tip’ the ‘other family’ so that at least they were more conversant during the negotiations.

A special bakora. Lesos. Mum’s envelope and even paraffin were just some of the bizzare items that were included on the list. Each symbolic, each with a specific meaning that should be given as a gift to my parents as a sign of respect and mutual cordiality, mixed with an appreciation for having taken care of me.

I tell you, the preparation for both families is detailed. Representative delegates are chosen. Official letters are dispatched. Clarification is sought after. Air time is burned and of course travel arrangements to the fiances home are made.

Long ago, it was the wisest elders in the clan who would accompany the father of the bride to the matrimonial home of the man to negotiate dowry. Nowadays, with the extended family ties being less communal, the close brothers and cousins to the brides father are the ones who accompany him. An eloquent spokesman is appointed to steer the negotiations.

When I told my colleague Hannah (she is so Brit) that it was going to happen tomorrow, she asked me,
“So, how much do you think you shall be worth?” I smiled. It was a queer yet honest question that was difficult to answer. Essentially because dowry isnt just a ‘price tag’ for me. Not knowing how to answer, mumbled some insufficient explaination.

How do I explain the complexity of traditional norms when I myself too is struggling to comprehend the rich symbolism and manner in which my culture does their dowry? I silently vowed to go to TBC and look for a book on ‘Traditions & Norms of Kenyan Tribes’ just so that I could expound my volcabulary and knowledge of my traditions in order to adequately answer these kind of questions.

One thing I must say is, I hand it to our ancestors, who came up with these elaborate customs. How creative (ahem, yes the word finally pops up now 🙂 ) they were in spelling out these processes.

For example the mother to the bride is given approximately 20 ltrs of paraffin and cash for utensils because apparently when she raised her daughter, there were times when the daughter broke some of her precious utensils and also used up the paraffin in the lamp way into the night as she studied. Hence the token is a compensation to the mother to relieve her off some of the sacrifices she made whilst bringing up her daughter.

I just think these were (light bulb) brilliant thoughts. Heck, the whole traditional bits is what movies should be made from (Afro-Cinema Kenyan edition). It’s this heritage and customs that makes us Africans so unique.

So tomorrow my family and my fiances family will meet to lay foundation for our union. It is a crafting of a long-life friendship, relationship and establish mutual cordiality and respect between us.

So as much as 13 cows + 1 goat may be the main agenda of the negotiations, the true essence of this event goes far much deeper than the translated cash value of the dowry. The closest description I can conjure is that it is a pact between the union of two families that on one hand, a daughter has gone into a good family where she will be taken care off like a daughter, be loved and florish in her new home and on the other hand, the husband will always be there to provide for her and their family, treat her respectfully from the time they marry till the end of their days.

One cant make this stuff up (stolen). Neither can one patent it (own composition). We own it to ourselves to be proud of who we are as I think it is traditional ceremonies/ events such as these that really solidify our humaneness and keep us Africans grounded in embracing good norms and values. Design shapes Culture. Culture shapes Values. Values shape a Society.

As for what will be agreed upon tomorrow, your guess is as good as mine!

NB: Here are a few sites Ive pulled out to expound on Luhyia traditions; in case you’d like to know more:
http://westfm.co.ke/index.php?page=news&bid=4906
http://www.luhya.net/HTML_files/marriage.html

It is all from the Heart. My Precious…

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Let my fingers do the talking!

Its extraordinary how as one grows older, one becomes wiser. Writing this blog in itself is a show of maturity, self confidence and of course wisdom.

Today I look around me and feel so blessed to be able to have a medium that I can share my feelings, aspirations, bitterness and even successes.

I am awed by the pace of technology and what it has to offer. I am always online (someone needs to start paying me for the amount of time i spend online), trying to keep abreast with new design trends, innovations and winning campaigns globally. I tell you, it is inexhaustive. No sooner do I finally discover how holographic technology works, Im bombarded by the complexities of 3-D printing, Nike fuel band and UI! The pace at which innovations in this world moves in itself needs a spot at the Guinness Book of records!

My inquisitive character ensures that I grow in my profession, and mentally challenging myself to always do more, to keep going, to keep studying about the arts every single day. To surpass what I know and venture into new things, paradigms and look at future innovations as that is where the intrigue lies. To phanthom that that is what my children will see (if im lucky to be blessed with some); I feel that they shall be a lucky lot. 

Watching 3D animations, stories about mutants, Avatar, Transformers, Lord of the Rings, Tinga Tinga…. Is awesome wonder. It is baffling to see how art directors, draftsmen’s, animators of these films spend hours on and off set designing to get the script just right, going all out to make them magically real. You can almost think that the characters in the fictious script exist in the real world. It is these works of art that make me exalt the human race and marvel at how God can bestow such great talent to humans.

I always wonder what He thinks when he looks down from heaven to see all the ‘Creators’ do what they are doing to make a living. Does he nod and approve of our works or does he  tut tut to himself and shake his head in disapproval?

Well that is a question posed to my readers. 

Designers negotiate with destiny. It is completely why I am lost in this subject matter. It is honestly the real reason why I am happy. To dabble with colour, space, form, type, lines and visual cues is one of those things that may seem so child like yet so powerful. To start by having a spark of an idea, putting it on paper then seeing it come alive before your very eyes is fundamentally the most wonderful feeling for an artist. More so when this idea is shared and it is adopted, approved or delivers a solution to a specific need for the targeted consumer. No one put it better than Jeffrey Zeldman who said ” Content precedes Design. Design in the absence of Content is not Design, it’s decoration. 

There are a bevy of quotes that im into but I shall share one last one that will sumarize my feeling today.

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist”

— Louis Nizer

 

 

 

How to Pitch for a Design Job

ImageLast week I had a great experience speaking to the design students at the School of Design at the University of Nairobi. I was actually invited to do a presentation on ‘How to Pitch for a Job’.

Here is the presentation (the notes are at the bottom slider of each slide): http://db.tt/pX92vRZw

Also got a mention on a locally driven architectural website called Archidatum. Here’s the article: http://www.archidatum.com/how-to-pitch-for-a-job/

Be inspired this week!

Africa. Tumefika.

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It took Michelangelo 4 years to paint the ceiling and 6 years to paint the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel..” –http://www.wiki.answers.com

It’s taxing to actually finish an important project at a set timeframe. It is the ‘malaria’ of many designers. For a specific time and date to be earmarked as the completion deadline for a masterpiece, I think, this is utterly a ridiculous venture.

Ideas should marinate… And most-times they take a while to actually morph and become the awesome works that they were envisioned to be. It shouldn’t be rushed.

 So is my project. It is morphing too, and as much as I find the back and forth hectically annoying, it is imperative that whatever the end product will be, it should be one that has a rich milestone and one that il take pride in once its complete. :)

Well, today I am inspired by just a simple message I bumped into about Locolize (I happened to google it)… Let me gloat a bit http://www.scoop.it/t/the-crowdfunding-atlas/p/3320425824/locolize. But do I say, that’s my first hit of unsolicited publicity. Despite the typos and all, I’m doing cartwheels.

Well, the gloating has impacted me in two ways. One, is that here is someone who doesn’t even know me nor how far not-gone my project is, and is commenting about it with vibrant optimism and good tidings.

Secondly and most importantly, what Anna B. Scott @doctoradancer is unconsciously saying is that yes, ‘Indeed it is Africa’s time. Give Her a shot, let’s hear what she has to say.’

I honestly jumped onto that school of thought, because it gives me pleasure that her comment lit a spark, and sparks can inspire great things. And these are my great inspiration!

The growing success of African designers in their own right mimics the broader changes taking place in the continent as a whole. Trends mouthpieces say that even the West are throwing an eye at our cultural ques and rationally or irrationally adopting them into their designs, just to lay claim to African authentic influence. Kikoi. Maasai beadwork. Kitenge. Turban. Dreadlocks. Safari. Afro mohawks. Swahili… Na kadhalika.

I feel privileged to be born in this era, an era when we are at the precipice of our emancipation into being the center of global focus. A new Africa is emerging, increasingly prosperous (look at the eyeballs on the oil prospects in EA), which is shaking off the images of poverty, famine and war that had previously dominated the continent’s coverage.

Today, people are looking at us as a continent that is vibrant, creative, and most of all, neo-modern.

Recent years have seen an increasingly vocal crop of fresh young talent arrive on the creative global scene, proud of their African roots and savvy about today’s opportunities. I’m talking of people like Chimamanda, Gado, Patrick Gathara, CampMulla, Eric Omondi, NairobiHalfLife, P-Unit, Ikal Angelei, Julie Wang’ombe  & Sonko. These group of people/projects attest to this as true icons of Africa’s innovative progress.

Moreover, improvements in governance (A hail Mary for the *Election Petition outcome to be peaceful), to flourishing real-estate and economic stability, to better access to technologies like mobile phones and e-tail stores, Africa and indeed Kenya is reveling in its increased prosperity.

With this fortune has come a newfound confidence, a growing pride to be African. Content being created is more than ever going ‘back to the roots’ and heralding our ethos as being black, bold and beautiful. Ghafla! Propertyleo. Tujuane. MulikaMwizi. Koroga. #someonetellCNN (that was cheeky); all these are authentic Kenyan content. As we embrace local, we are becoming globally recognized. Makofi :)

My hope and prayer is that Africa’s new potential grows. Blessing that for years to come, the energy of her people to continue bolstering and propel us to great heights as who knows, we might just be the next super power after China’s eminent reign!

Simplicity is the New Vogue

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It’s a phenomenon that the most simple of things are the most sort after and appreciated. Paulo Coelho once said, ‘The simplest things in life are the most extraordinary. Only wise men are able to understand them.’  This quote jogs my memory, taking me back when I was in campus, where I remember my fascination on a certain class on Bauhaus Design.

 

For those who are not familiar with the term: Bauhaus is a German school of thought founded with the idea of creating a “total” work of art in which all arts, including architecture, would eventually be brought together. The Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture and modern design. 1The Bauhaus had a profound influence upon subsequent developments in art, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography. Bauhaus shows purism with emphasis on straight edges and smooth, slim forms. Rooms were sparsely furnished, but filled with hygienic freshness. Superfluous features were taboo.

 

The designs from this era is usually simple but beautiful. There is a perfect combination of function and aesthetics that it appears almost ‘common’. Funny that even with the simplicity of Bauhaus design one notices that to come up with such design one needs to be highly discerning and accomplished designer. ‘Simple’ is not simple at all!

 

Anyway, the point I’m trying to bring across, is the importance of designers recognizing that design is meant to be ‘simple’. Many at times, we brainstorm and end up with a booklet of possible solutions that the client may wish to consider when truly its only one or two of those solutions that is really necessary. I totally understand that the industry needs to thrive by making money but honestly I don’t think it should come at the expense of the client paying extra for strategies that will not add value for their brands.

 

Indeed, designers today have the task to come up with exciting and engaging designs/ strategies for brands. But the truth is, hardly do you see these ideas being effective in impacting the consumers. It is a pity that there are brands out there forking out so much money and are not getting the value they deserve.

 

Not only should designers be more objective, but start thinking more about being ethical in their idea generations. Few but powerful, simple yet engaging ideas are far more impactful that many, random and complex ideas.  They say, less is more. Yes, this doesn’t just apply to makeup or the fashion industry, it applies in everything.

 

Just a few examples to highlight this: The quest for eco-friendly models of design is on the rise. Use of natural material that is recyclable, biodegradable and eco-friendly is now becoming an urgent consideration in global design. Just look around you, today more than ever, consumers are expecting and even demanding that manufacturers, brands and products behave responsibly, ethically and sustainably.

 

In this market (Africa), we need to start looking inwards and design solution that fit into the lives of the consumer, and solving pressing problems that they specifically face.

 

Secondly, we learn from the Bauhaus to broaden our horizons, look for inspiration in the world around us. Magazine adverts, a kiosk, the side profile of a car in the street, the opening credits to a film – there are theories and principles all around us and it’s up to us to take a step back once in a while and see if any of them are applicable.

 

You work in an agency? Go and see what the marketing guys are up to. If you’re a web designer, see what the print and packaging people are working on. You might see something that has absolutely no connection to the job you’re working on but it might set you off on a different trail of thought which leads to a great outcome for your project. I get so many inspirations from music, cartoons, animation and yes humor of Kenyan politics.

 

My challenge is for designers to be more professional and better in what they do. We need to comprehend the essence of how to maximize our skills and in turn offer unique ideas every single time we design for our clients. There is a wealth of materials all around us. Use them…In moderation J

 

 

There is a freedom in being simple.  Just to keep us grounded about life, here is a site I thought would give us more perspective: http://www.marcandangel.com/2008/03/23/the-30-most-satisfying-simple-pleasures-life-has-to-offer/

 

 1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bauhaus

 

HAPPY ELECTIONS YEAR

Happy New Year is what I meant to start with. I just felt that the title above is more appropriate, seeing that we are already far gone into the year and more importantly, preparing ourselves to usher in a new government. To be honest, I have been procrastinating writing on the blog but I decided ‘nitoke huko’ as my former boss used to say so merrily. So I have set aside my mind block, opened my laptop and decided to express my viewpoint about the forthcoming elections.  Just for the record, let it be known that Kenyan politics has never been my favourite topic of discussion, but in this instance I have made an exception.

My hugest concern is about how our country is going to be like after the fate of 4th March 2013. Looking around, I have witnessed several symptoms (cant think of a better word) of elections; for example, some are frantically getting air tickets to get back to their hometowns. And they plan to be there indefinitely till they are certain the country is safe or at least reassured that the country is at peace. Down the hall at my new office there is….Ahem, a big-brother setup of a ‘Euro peace enquiry into Kenyan politics’ outfit that I’m sure is watching the mass media channels of the nation with high-end binoculars.  I’ve also noticed that most Kenyans are either passively oblivious, worried or happily engaged with campaigning for their favourite parties and contenders.  Whatever the symptom, every one is praying for a peaceful outcome.

Unsurprisingly, even last week’s local comedy ‘Papa Shirandula’ (yeah still enjoying local content – never quite got to upgrading to Zuku or any of the other ’Faiba’ networks J) has election drama as the main theme weaved in their script. It’s like the nation has a narcissistic obsession to knowing who exactly will lead Kenya. I would imagine that that is the number one question that is probably making some people have sleepless nights. Strategizes. Manifestos. Great Debate. Propaganda. Coalitions. Speculations. Obama’s Speech. Hague. All these and more are the repeated buzzword headlining in the daily tabloids and general mass media – at times it is does get a tad boring. Can the elections happen already.

In the midst of the melee of rally euphoria and party politics, I cant help but notice the good efforts of institutions such as Inuka Trust and Nation Media; who made it their mandate to sensitize Kenyans to vote wisely and elect leaders with good leadership qualities. I was fortunate to be a part of the team that was involved in putting up the ‘Uongozi’ 2012 Campaign:  an ‘Edutainment’ Civic Education and Youth Engagement Initiative that has been going round in the grassroots recruiting potential ‘leaders’ who were given a platform on the Nation reality television program ‘Uongozi’, to articulate issues that affected their counties as well as suggest possible ways of resolving them.

My take is that few Kenyans have watched the episodes but I believe that it is such attempt that are championed by a few brave and willing citizens; that will in the future grow to be a formidable voice for society in seeking a different breed of leaders; those with repute. We as a nation need to start comprehending the necessity of trusting our senses and voting for leaders that have integrity verses those that use money to coerce the public to handing them a vote. It is a pity that a majority of Kenyans are still fumbling to see the difference.

This weekend I watched a full series of Scandal Season II (yes it’s fake but I presume that in between the romance and law suits, what unfolds in the series happens to be a reflection of what actually goes on in the White House) and I’m really impressed by how the American government politicking system is very mature. Contenders for electoral seats talk about real issues, they debate about constitutional issues that need changing or modification in order to stay relevant to their State, and hardly for selfish agendas. Moreover, they are portrayed as humans with feeling just like any other person. No matter the Office held, most of them have respect for the law, aren’t beyond the reach of public scrutiny or have immunity to being charged in a court of law.  For example, if a Senator, Governor or even the President is caught on the wrong side of the law and advised to apologies, they do so on public television. Leaders there actually own up to faults and are held accountable for their deeds. Incredulously as it may sound, even a few have been known to voluntarily resigned office if the matter is of a grave concern. Clearly African leadership is a far cry from what you see in this more liberal nation. This to me, indicates that there’s is some higher moral of conduct and accountability held by those who are in such governments than what I see in my own country. Evidently, we as a people need to borrow a leaf from them and take a stand on doing our bit in fostering the reforms agenda. If its been done elsewhere, I believe it can also be done in this own country. Heck, a lot needs to be done, but we need to make a first step in the right direction. Guess where – at the ballot box!

And its really very simple, Kenyans need to positively engage in the democratic process by electing leaders who are accountable to their constituents, who represent their needs and interests, and by actively participating in demanding for nothing less than good governance from the same leaders.

But what I find most surprising is that even in this modern day, you will still find the most educated of people seem to move far from examining these key pointers and they go ahead to backing the most charlatan of leaders! All because of tribal alliance, phony promises or money handouts.

Well it’s not for me to tell Kenyans whom to vote for but it is my ethical right as a citizen of this country to urge Kenyans to vote wisely. After all, we are going to be stuck with them for the next 4 years. So, make it count.

And to all the leaders out there doing their final hurdle of campaigns, I pray that they uphold the integrity of the wonderfully drawn up Kenyan Constitution and honestly wish them the best come election day. Let the most deserving and honorable of men and women win! Finally, Your Honours (in the making), the title should be earned not bought.

(To close, every patriotic Kenyan can sing the National Anthem J)Image