Afroway senior writer, Musungu met the Annoyin’ Artist, a Tanzanian Wordsmith in the Kenyan Poetry Slam event, an incredible poet and storyteller. Annoyin’Artist runs a creative space with the same name back in her home country. Though her career steered her into the sciences, the storyteller would find passion in the arts which she currently practices fulltime. With her franchise the Annoyin’Artist, the artist whose full name is Rukia Kurwa hopes to create an East African Art expressive space similar to but better than Tedx. Here is Musungu’s interview with the artist.
“ I write about my fears, experiences and observations. I try to be as self-analytical, critical as I am about others”
Musungu: Hello Rukia, how are you today?
Annoyin’Artist: Great thank you! Thanks for all this, it’s my first ever Magazine interview, hope to say all the right things. FYI, I talk too much, as you can already tell.
Musungu: How is the world of art taking you?
Annoyin’Artist: Can’t complain.
Musungu: Talking about art, is the name Annoyin Artist your moniker or does it represent a collective?
Annoyin’Artist: Both actually. I am known as The Annoyin’ Artist around town but once you’ve performed or showcased something at the event, you are definitely one too.
Musungu: As an organisation, what does Annoyin Artist do?
Annoyin’Artist: It’s a multifaceted idea but all to do with creativity. An investment in interdisciplinary exchanges to promote and support daring creative showcases by having diverse groups share among themselves whether through storytelling, poetry, music or visual arts. It is not strictly a call for artists to perform; it is a platform for individuals to share. A place where people come to unwind and reflect on their behavior, life choices and opinions through meaningful conversations among the audience during designated times within the events. I call it “The No Small Talk” Sessions. The mission is to host a diverse group of people moved by the realization that self-expression is a necessity.
Musungu: How do you select artists for your exhibitions and how long do the exhibitions run?
Annoyin’Artist: So I look for daring, unseen, different visual artists the same way I do writers, storytellers and musicians. They usually contact me first and I get to see or hear their work. I have to meet with them and make sure they aren’t yet another ‘TingaTinga’ artist, or making the same ‘Mt. Kilimanjaro’ and ‘Maasai Art’. But also, you can get a sense of them as artists and the passion better that way. I don’t know whether simply knowing how to draw or rhyme necessarily makes you an artist, it’s all about what you are trying to communicate, the story behind it. There’s an unquestionable thirst to express, that you can’t miss with some people, and those are the ones I can’t let go of. The events are either a whole day (visual arts) or a few hours during the night (performance arts). But for the visual exhibitions – I’ve only just started – and I believe it has great potential to start expanding to a 2-3 day event.
Musungu: What are some of the challenges you face in your chosen career paths?
Annoyin’Artist: So far the most pressing of them all is getting more locals interested in things like this and come out and have the experience. This is for us. For the Tanzanians who have been made to feel like self-expression is a foreign luxury. So I’m always pushing for locals to attend or contribute. I’m happy I’m a local myself doing this because I think people are demotivated because there’s this idea that self-expression is something only wealthy foreigners have time for. Numerous times I have been asked who my boss is, because people think it’s a foreign initiative that I work for or something. But telling people that it is all me and that I do it full time sparks an interest, because they see that it could be something for them too. It’s also why I do many school visits, to show the young Tanzanians that it’s possible too. It’s really important to me, you know?
Musungu: Any achievements you are proud of?
Annoyin’Artist: Mostly it’s the personal triumphs. I perform or showcase something in all ‘The Annoyin’ Artist’ events. I understand that if I am telling people to share the things that make their stomach turn – since those are the only things that matter – I have to do it every time I get up there too. It’s a platform for me too, and it’s equally as hard to dig deep and share my insecurities, fears and self-analytical pieces to the mass. But it always feels very good after and I am proud of that. Oh! Launching ‘The Annoyin’ Artist’s’ first Festival (and first of its kind in Arusha) as well as doing my first TEDx Talk are things I’m proud of too.
Musungu: What do we expect of The Annoyin Artist in five years?
Annoyin’Artist: MAN! I mean, I expect so much myself! Where to start? Uhm, I have always envisioned a “TED – like” version of things but to expand it to accommodate East and Central African artists of all disciplines. In 5 years ‘The Annoyin’Artist Festivals’ should be the thing to NOT miss. Where people come to see CRAZY presentations from musicians, poets, painters, sketchers, writers and storytellers pushing the envelope in Inspiring and daring ways. Just giving a massive platform for the unheard gems of the region. But also, there’s a great project I have started with visual artists as well where we bring art into the community in the most spectacular and permanent way possible. You see how much noise is being made for the music and film industry? With billboards and posters everywhere. Not enough is being done with the Visual Artists. So I thought of bringing the visuals arts to the community by way of a permanent exhibition in public spaces. . It’s a way to bring art to the “common mwanainchi”. These are the masses that should consume art that inspires self -reflection and societal analysis. If they can’t come to appreciate art in what seems to be “exclusive” places around town, well then we bring it to them. The speed at which one points at a banner and says “LOOK! It’s Diamond!” should be the same speed at which we can point and say “That’s a portrait by Sungi Mlengeya!” The common Mwanainchi takes the Daladala (Matatu) so why not just have art at Daladala stops? Artists can collaborate to have their signature work public, the community gets to know about them more and it’s a great city beautification project. I’ve fundraised for the first structure to be put up before the end of this year in one bus stop and two artists will come together to work on a piece, then approach the city council or the companies e.g. Pepsi who have their logoed structure everywhere to see how we can work together. In 5 years I hope to have these spread all across the city. It becomes the capital of public art work and installations. Arusha has immense potential. TOO MANY IDEAS I tell you! And mark my words they will all be tried. It’s such a rush to think about the possibilities and the growth of it all. Myself included, by the way, I’m really excited to see how I evolve in my art in 5 years.
Musungu: As a story teller, What do you hope people will get from your stories apart from entertainment? And how is the reception of the stories in your community?
Annoyin’Artist: I think I want people to feel less alone. To understand that we all feel the same way and that it’s OK to express dissatisfaction, disconnection, disappointment and uncertainty. Also that the one thing so uncomfortable or hurtful or embarrassing or even threatening to bring up is the one thing that will matter, inspire or influence once it is, and the reward for that is way bigger than any amount of fear you may have. It won’t be easy, but it damn sure will be worth it. The response has been great. I make sure everything I present is a conversation starter or is something that makes people think a bit more about their choices and ways of life somehow – because I think a lot about mine – and everyone appreciates that, hence a good response.
Musungu: Why did you settle for ‘The Annoyin Artist’?
Annoyin’Artist: Can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I knew that if I was to ever do something worthwhile with my time, then it was going to be through art. I know for a fact that if I continuously create and hopefully – somehow inspire others to do the same – then I would be doing something useful.
Musungu: As an artist, tell us more about what you do?
Annoyin’Artist: I write about my fears, experiences and observations. I try to be as self-analytical/critical as I am about others. I look at what is bothering or has bothered me in the past. That thing that has made me angry, fearful and therefore silent. Something so deep within me that if I wasn’t running ‘The Annoyin’ Artist’ I’d have no guts to say out loud, and THAT’S what I work with. I think of one line – that may end up somewhere in the piece, or not even be used by the time I finish – and I add the rest of the story around that line. I make it very specific and personal, because I realized paradoxically, it’s the only way you can be relatable. It’s weird, when you try and be so general in your work thinking that should cover most people’s experiences, you’re wrong. When you tell a story that you believe is only yours and therefore are so specific and detailed, it’s when people go OH MY GOD! ME TOO! The first time I realized this was when I shared a piece called Jungle Fever (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_N4Kl_RGMk&t=11s) and I was talking about a Dutch guy who came to Arusha openly admitting that he’s here for the African experience with local women. I got to find this out only after we’d hang out a bit. The first line I used to create the whole thing was “You want to get in the back where you’ll try very hard to compliment me but only come up with something like “You guys hair is SO interesting”. And it became this really long monologue. Of course lots of Tanzanians related to it, but it was interesting that an Asian girl came up to me and said “I know exactly what you’re talking about!” So I went home and thought about the next specific experience I need to share, and never looked back.
Musungu: According to your Facebook page- yeah, I like snooping- you studied Microbiology. What motivated you into the arts then? And do you already have a career in Microbiology or switched fully into the performance arts?
Annoyin’Artist: My overwhelming impatience is my number one motivator. Realizing very quickly that the passion I have for this idea is much stronger than any objection or doubt that was going to – and did – come. I knew that I wanted to constantly create and express and be surrounded with people who saw the need to do the same, and I don’t think it would have happened if I did it part time. So, yes, I switched completely to arts and went only as far as University with Sciences.
Musungu: Tell us more about your creative writing workshops and Festivals. What are they about?
Annoyin’Artist: The Festival is once a year, which was just launched this year, and we have the shows that lead up to it. I try to have very different acts and ages perform or showcase something. So we have 16 to 60 year olds storytelling, doing poems, music and monologues, sharing the most authentic parts of them. But it all depends on who I can get for an upcoming show and how well organized it can be. In the beginning I aimed to have one every month, but it was very hard. I had to write myself, as well as find people to showcase something. But a great show takes time, and once I saw I wasn’t fulfilling the vibe I wanted, I slowed down, so now the frequency varies. I can only do a show once I am confident it will be better/different than last time otherwise what’s the point? If that means making people wait for two and a half months, sawasawa. And this method has given rise to fantastic exchanges. People have shared their concerns/views on their countries through song, people have come together to work on wonderful interdisciplinary visual arts projects, some have had the courage to come back and share deeply personal stories that have opened up dialogue between friends and family, students and teachers, among neighbors and between strangers but most importantly, people have looked each other in the eye and gone, thank you for sharing. Just to add on that, trying my best to build a diverse crowd, I move around the city. I use any venue that would have me – and luckily many are interested. You see the trouble is most places have a “certain” audience attached to them, and I am trying to avoid this as much as possible. The idea wouldn’t work any other way. The workshops are kind of built into the events, as there’s always an element of contemplation and conversation. Oh! And the shows are also about curating the potential Festival acts.
Musungu: Besides creative writing, what else does Rukia do for the creative industry in Tanzania?
Annoyin’Artist: It may be the conversations I decided people must have. My shows always have an element of conversation, which for me is as important as creativity. People must talk, because as it has been said – Conversation not only reshuffles your cards, it creates new ones. During any event strangers come to learn and unlearn from one another. And we’ve had people come out of these “No Small Talk” sessions ready to try new things, and I realized sometimes it doesn’t just take you performing and expressing to inspire, but allowing people to share their stories in a conversation first, is a great start in making them understand how important it is to express and be open – no matter how slow the process is. It’s also why I do school visits around Arusha, talking to the kids who are so concerned about their future but are at an age where the decisions made are not necessarily their own. Encouraging those who are thinking about self-expression to know that it can be a respected and celebrated path too, and I’m glad we’ve had students come with their parents to the events and show them the world they are interested in. Maybe this is how else I contribute. To be honest, I see writing for me as the one thing I can do really well. I will take up other things along the way for sure though.
Musungu: Of late, there has been a lot of buzz in the Tanzanian Art scene. The visual arts specifically are doing good… What do you think is the driving force of the boom of the arts industry in Tanzania?
Annoyin’Artist: Perhaps people are realizing sitting around and waiting is not the answer. With so many ways to get yourself out there these days, artists take chances more. It’s also the rise in opportunity. Art spaces are popping up and welcoming artists. It’s good motivation.
Musungu: Do you think enough is being done in the promotion of the Arts by organization like Nafasi Artspace, Vipaji among others?
Annoyin’Artist: Absolutely, the few that are taking it seriously are doing a great job!
Musungu: Do you consider yourself a globetrotter? How many countries have you visited?
Annoyin’Artist: I have lived in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, and recently visited Zanzibar. That’s it so far so I guess not quite the globe trotter yet, but that’s definitely my aim.
Musungu: When not practicing your arts, what else do you do?
Annoyin’Artist: I live in a pretty isolated area so I read, or at least try catching up on reading. I am – when I remember that I am – writing a script too, so I continue with the process of “writing a feature film” when I can (a VERY VERY slow process I tell you). I mean, why not just go mad and try, right? I’m dedicating lots of my time to squeezing every part of me that has something to say.
Musungu: Does Tanzania have a curriculum which nurtures young creatives? What should be done to promote the creative industry in the country?
Annoyin’Artist: Like a country curriculum dedicated to that? Not that I have heard of. I think it’s more the smaller organizations and NGOs having their own calendars and fitting in great programs to cater to it the best they can. And that’s the problem, we rely on the few and even then, they take in artists from a certain age and who have developed their skills to some extent. But many are missing the chance to get to that skillful level because schools feed art in very small portions. The only person that encourages art is the art teacher – and again, only to a certain level because of the reluctance to the creative world that is a part of the culture. There should be an investment in inspiring creatives during their up-bringing. Now the country’s departments of art can be involved in this, but individuals can pull resources together to make it happen too. One way could be continuous mobile workshops where young creatives have a chance to go mad and express but also to develop their individual styles, nurturing their passion. It won’t have to only be about art, kids can build/come up with games, protoypes for really cool ideas using what they have access to and so on. And these workshops can work up to an interschool fair where kids get to show what they’ve been working on all year. Parents can see their child’s development and it builds such confidence, you know. That’s how we can nurture young creatives, and with time, the quality that is produced will have the creative industry promoting itself. It’s all about how the creative journey is addressed, because we can only go as far the foundation we have built.
Musungu: What kind of music do you listen to? Do you have a favourite artist?
Annoyin’Artist: A good Putamayo mix, Rap – for sure – and various African music. I listen to Maembe Vitali – an incredible musician from Bagamoyo – like over and over again. He performed at The Festival this June, and I was glad people understood how important his message is.
Musungu: Any hot entertainment spots you will recommend to a visitor in Arusha
Annoyin’Artist: Club D is known for regular concerts and parties. The weekly music/club nights happen at ViaVia or Le Patio. But there’s this great, 100% unique one called The Annoyin’Artist. Rumor has it that everyone should check it out ☺
Musungu: Haha! What else is cool about Tanzania that you feel not so many people know about and you would like people to appreciate it?
Annoyin’Artist: The creative minds. There are so many impressive people here and not only in the music industry, which I guess is what is popular about us. For a long time however, we have been viewed as not that creative or willing to take up initiative in other things, and I can understand why. I don’t think we are incompetent people though; just somehow “timid” which has very many other contributing factors to do with the country’s system, tradition and the numerous emphasized cultures. But we’re getting to a place where more and more people are coming up with great ideas and initiatives or willing to express themselves. The greatness is revealing itself.