Fun, fierce and fantastical African art | Wanuri Kahiu

Fun, fierce and fantastical African art | Wanuri Kahiu


So, my mother’s a pediatrician, and when I was young,
she’d tell the craziest stories that combined science
with her overactive imagination. One of the stories she told
was that if you eat a lot of salt, all of the blood rushes up your legs, through your body, and shoots out the top of your head, killing you instantly. (Laughter) She called it “high blood pressure.” (Laughter) This was my first experience
with science fiction, and I loved it. So when I started to write
my own science fiction and fantasy, I was surprised that it
was considered un-African. So naturally, I asked, what is African? And this is what I know so far: Africa is important. Africa is the future. It is, though. And Africa is a serious place
where only serious things happen. So when I present my work somewhere,
someone will always ask, “What’s so important about it? How does it deal with real African issues like war, poverty, devastation or AIDS?” And it doesn’t. My work is about Nairobi pop bands
that want to go to space or about seven-foot-tall robots that fall in love. It’s nothing incredibly important. It’s just fun, fierce and frivolous, as frivolous as bubble gum — “AfroBubbleGum.” So I’m not saying that
agenda art isn’t important; I’m the chairperson of a charity that deals with films and theaters
that write about HIV and radicalization and female genital mutilation. It’s vital and important art, but it cannot be the only art
that comes out of the continent. We have to tell more stories that are vibrant. The danger of the single story
is still being realized. And maybe it’s because of the funding. A lot of art is still dependent
on developmental aid. So art becomes a tool for agenda. Or maybe it’s because we’ve only seen
one image of ourselves for so long that that’s all we know how to create. Whatever the reason, we need a new way, and AfroBubbleGum is one approach. It’s the advocacy of art for art’s sake. It’s the advocacy of art
that is not policy-driven or agenda-driven or based on education, just for the sake of imagination: AfroBubbleGum art. And we can’t all be AfroBubbleGumists. We have to judge our work
for its potential poverty porn pitfalls. We have to have tests
that are similar to the Bechdel test, and ask questions like: Are two or more Africans
in this piece of fiction healthy? Are those same Africans financially stable
and not in need of saving? Are they having fun and enjoying life? And if we can answer yes
to two or more of these questions, then surely we’re AfroBubbleGumists. (Laughter) (Applause) And fun is political, because imagine if we have
images of Africans who were vibrant and loving and thriving and living a beautiful, vibrant life. What would we think of ourselves then? Would we think that maybe
we’re worthy of more happiness? Would we think of our shared humanity
through our shared joy? I think of these things when I create. I think of the people and the places
that give me immeasurable joy, and I work to represent them. And that’s why I write stories about futuristic girls that risk
everything to save plants or to race camels or even just to dance, to honor fun, because my world is mostly happy. And I know happiness is a privilege
in this current splintered world where remaining hopeful
requires diligence. But maybe, if you join me
in creating, curating and commissioning more AfroBubbleGum art, there might be hope
for a different view of the world, a happy Africa view where children are strangely traumatized by their mother’s dark sense of humor, (Laughter) but also they’re claiming fun,
fierce and frivolous art in the name of all things
unseriously African. Because we’re AfroBubbleGumists and there’s so many more of us
than you can imagine. Thank you so much. (Applause)

46 thoughts on “Fun, fierce and fantastical African art | Wanuri Kahiu

  1. Yes. There needs to be a more normalization of all people. Stop putting labels on them and just have them be seen as living life as everyone else. Because that's how it is. We are all pushing through this life and all want to be happier.

  2. Why can't a person just talk about their art, thoughts and ideas without being attacked for trying to bring something to the world.

  3. Dear Americans: Africa won't just stop existing because you hit the thumbs-down button. Calm yourselves, take a deep breath. You can get through this. It can be hard to get your head around at first but…other cultures exist.

  4. If I didn't know better I'd say all those alt-right dislikers are being racists.
    Good thing I know the alt-right is anything but, and perfectly opposed to racial hate.

  5. Look there is a woman talking, people have to hate this video of course! TED, you should just close the comment sections on your videos and disable the like/dislike ratio…

  6. Just for the sake of imagination. That is a beautiful mission. Often times we get so absorbed by the rules and guidelines. I believe ART is unlimited and free. Your story is inspiring.

  7. that is bad art ,
    those are poor ideas old ideas,
    that continent is just a reminder of the worst of the world.
    the future will be different

  8. What is it with this people with the dislikes👎🏽whats so wrong about the talk or this people never get to see the right side of things in their lives. Smh
    I am on board with all that she said, very good.

  9. Completely disagree with the notion that happiness is a privilege in todays world. Sends the wrong message that happiness is only possible if you acknowledge the perceived understanding of the world today.

  10. A truly incredible speech ! Her words were vibrant and inspiring! I am definitely going to read her stories and watch her films ! She is an original ! unique and artistic ! Much love and respect from Greece !

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