To Revolutionary Type Love: Interview With Kenyan Artist Kawira Mwirichia
We interviewed Kawira Mwirichia about her project that ties love, the art of kanga designing and the LGBTI global community. In a country that frowns upon queer expression and legally criminalizes same-sex, this Kenyan Artist wanted to inspire, celebrate and honor her queer community. Kawira says that “Art’s role in any situation is to give body to certain thoughts, beliefs or experiences,” in her words, learn what role the project plays in Kenya and beyond.
1. Introduce us to Kawira, who is she and what is she about?
I am a Visual Artist. A Queer Visual Artist. I do not restrict myself to one medium, I try to experiment a lot. Right now I’m working with Kangas but, I’ve done paintings, drawings, sculpture etc. So, I like to spread myself out in the art realm.
2. How do you define To Revolutionary Type Love?
To Revolutionary Type Love is a toast to Queerness. It’s a whole celebration of Queer Love and the Queer individual. TRTL’s whole essence is the celebration of ourselves. We’ve taken Queer histories from around the world – histories of love, struggle, pain and joy and I interpreted them into the artwork that is on the Kangas. We made a call for quotes from Queer people in Kenya, on what their love was and what it meant to them. These are on every Kanga in the exhibition.
3. What inspired you to use Kangas and photography to talk about Queer Love?
I went to a friend’s wedding and they were laying down the Kangas to receive her and then take her to the groom. This is something that happens in many Kenyan cultures; It is a gesture to honour, welcome and to celebrate them and their love and union. I realized that this is something a majority of the Queer community in Kenya would probably never experience as Homosexuality is still illegal in Kenya. And so I wanted to come up with a project that celebrated us by the laying down of our own Kangas.
The photography came in as a documentation of the Queer experience but we also wanted to have an exploration of the idea of love in whichever way the photographers experienced love – the complications, interactions, how Queer love is seen, the process of how finding someone etc. There are 6 different interpretations of the theme in the exhibition space and all of them have a different story to tell.
It’s all very celebratory and empowering, it feels bold – which I love and I feel they blend in well together.
4. What conversations within and outside of the community do you hope this work sparks?
I don’t know about conversations, but my main aim is that the individual feels celebrated.
So when people see the exhibition and feel the energy and speak about how they felt, I want them to see their beauty and feel lifted. I want to see what that feeling does for them wherever they go. Are they feeling more accepting of themselves? And if so, how does that translate? How does that make them live their lives more fully in whichever way that looks for different people? So more introspective conversations I guess.
5. What’s been the most challenging thing about creating this project in Kenya as a Queer Artist?
The challenge has been with me, internally. The actual creating the of the vision and being intentional about it. This is probably because I have done these types of exhibitions before, in 2012 for example, I did an exhibition on Queer Erotica at the Go Down Art Center and in consequent years we’ve done other things around town, like the Sex Festival last year. So I think the availability of certain spaces around town really reduce the challenges I would probably face as a Queer Artist.
6. What’s your biggest fear ahead of the launch of your exhibition?
My biggest fear is that people fail to get it and they leave there having felt nothing.
7. Tell us about an exciting discovery/learning from doing this project?
What I’ve learnt and I’m still meditating on is Showing Up. What it means to show up fully for both myself and other people. Life is all about showing up; A lot of things will feel difficult, many things will feel scary but you just have to show up and that slowly takes the power away from those difficulties and it becomes easier to handle, so showing up is what I’m still learning about.
8. Where do you want this project to go?
I’m working towards the next anniversary which is the next IDAHO in 2018, and I’m hoping that this is more, in that it’s bigger and better. In addition, if all goes well, I’d like for the exhibition to travel around the world.
9. In Your Experience, what do you think Art’s role is / could be in the Queer Movement in Kenya?
I think Art’s role in any situation is to give body to certain thoughts, beliefs, stories or experiences. I think it is the artist’s role to deliberately choose what they give body to in any work of Art and let that be THEIR say about that thing. I don’t think art has any role except the one given to it by the artist themselves and therefore in the case of TRTL, the role of art was to start internal conversations about self acceptance and celebration of Queer Love. I’m hopeful that that is what is happening.
10. Is the Outcome of Years of work what you wanted it to be from the Onset?
In the beginning, I was choosing the kind of artist I wanted to be. I didn’t want my work to be collected or bought, just because it’s Kawira’s work. I wanted people to connect with my work and to really cherish it and thus buy it. So after setting this intention and seeing how people are reacting to TRTL right now, I feel that my intended intentions have been accomplished.
11.What are you working on next?
Currently just concentrating on finishing TRTL, we still have over 150 countries to document so that is the main focus right now.
12. Anything else you’d like to add?
The TRTL project art work is available for sale and there are catalogues for both the kangas and the photography prints. You can support by buying the art or even just contributing by sharing the Queer Histories of your country. In the meantime, for those that missed the exhibition can get a feel of it here.
Our website: www.torevolutionarytypelove.com