Wanuri Kahiu: So, there is a hip hop artist called K’naan. He is a Somali Canadian hip hop artist rap­per. But he remixed an African proverb in which he said, Until the lions learn to speak, the tales of hunt­ing will be meek.” 

So I recent­ly trav­eled to for­eign, and I was asked to present my film Pumzi, a short sci­ence fic­tion film. And when I got to the cus­toms desk, I’m always asked for my paper­work, I’m always a ran­dom check. And I’m always ready. I have my return tick­et, my hotel accom­mo­da­tion, my invite letter—everything I need to prove that I do not intend to stay. 

So the cus­toms offi­cer asked me why I was there and I explained. She asked me what my film was about and I said it’s a futur­is­tic sci­ence fic­tion film about Africa. And then she asked, Why is it so impor­tant?” Why is it impor­tant enough for you to trav­el and dis­cuss. To her, sci­ence fic­tion is obvi­ous­ly not impor­tant. And I could­n’t blame her for her awk­ward ques­tion. She was­n’t used to lions speaking. 

To have the hunter tell it, Africa is full of meek sto­ries about des­per­a­tion and despair. So when artists like myself offer an alter­nate vision, often we’re asked to defend our imag­i­na­tion. Why do we feel we have the lux­u­ry to cre­ate? Shouldn’t we be deal­ing with more impor­tant issues like cor­rup­tion, or war, or AIDS, or pover­ty? And I think this is large­ly because most peo­ple like to think of Africa only as the sum of its prob­lems. And the prob­lem with this is that it’s cre­at­ed a sin­gle sto­ry, that has cre­at­ed only one per­spec­tive of Africa, which we have allowed to tell about our­selves. We’ve allowed these sto­ries to be told about our­selves as if they’re the only per­spec­tive on Africa. 

So, the prob­lem with that is that if the only sto­ries about us are des­per­ate and hope­less and lost then how can we for our­selves imag­ine any­thing bet­ter than that? So, as a result we cre­at­ed Afrobubblegum. And Afrobubblegum is an online plat­form that cel­e­brates Afrobubblegum work, which is fun, fierce, and friv­o­lous African art. It has no agen­da. It has no pol­i­cy. It’s not try­ing to save every­one or any­one. It’s not try­ing to do any­thing. It’s not try­ing to…it’s real­ly just a cel­e­bra­tion of art for art’s sake. 

But not every­body can cre­ate Afrobubblegum art. It has to answer a cou­ple of ques­tions. So for the Afrobubblegum test that we cre­at­ed, we have a series of three ques­tions. And in order to pass the test you have to answer no” to the fol­low­ing three ques­tions. The first ques­tion, Are there any Africans who are sick or dying in this piece? Are there any Africans in need of sav­ing? Are there any who are des­per­ate, hope­less, or lost? And if you can answer no to all three of these ques­tions then sure­ly you’re an Afrobubblegum artist. 

And what was great to dis­cov­er is that there’s been a his­to­ry of Afrobubblegum art through Africa. In the 60s and 70s we had these amaz­ing look­books, or pho­to mag­a­zines, or pho­to comics. And we had Son of Samsom. We had Cobra, the ser­pen­tine shero. And we had The Spear. The Spear had a charm­ing way with girls, and a dead­ly way with thugs. 

And they were tru­ly a pan-African col­lab­o­ra­tion. They were writ­ten in South Africa. They were shot in Swaziland. They were… No, actu­al­ly they were writ­ten in Nigeria. They were shot in Swaziland. They were edit­ed in South Africa. And they were print­ed in Kenya and Ghana, and dis­trib­uted across Anglophone Africa. And hun­dreds of thou­sands of copies of each issue would go out across the con­ti­nent. And this is in colo­nial Africa and in Apartheid Africa, and we had a chance to see our­selves as heroes. Which is great because if we can see our­selves as heroes then maybe we can imag­ine for our­selves a rad­i­cal hope for a bet­ter future. 

So. More present­ly, in Kenya we have the work of Osborne Macharia. And Osborne cre­at­ed in his series The League of Extravagant Grannies. And these are retired women who were indus­try and gov­ern­ment lead­ers. And just look­ing at their work you can see how they chal­lenge pow­er dynam­ics and gen­der roles in Africa. 

Then what he went on to do is that he found very ordi­nary every­day women and made them high fash­ion mod­els. And these women, as a result of being in his work, they felt so priv­i­leged and they felt seen and acknowl­edged through joy. They were cel­e­brat­ed because of every­thing that they can be and every­thing they had not imag­ined that they could be. So he start­ed to cre­ate joy cul­tures through his work. 

But he’s not the only per­son who’s cre­at­ing joy cul­tures. In Abidjan, we have Laetitia Ky. And she uses her hair to cre­ate art. And her art is a ver­sion of her Africa, which is whim­si­cal, and light, and fun, and friv­o­lous. And I often imag­ine if these are the kind of images that we used to com­mu­ni­cate NGO mes­sag­ing, or for­eign pol­i­cy com­mu­ni­ca­tion, what would we think about Africa then? Would we think that we are wor­thy of the pur­suit of happiness? 

Then, going to Nigeria we have Dennis Osadebe. And he cre­ates what he calls Neo-African” art. And he cre­ates a series of afro­nauts. This is the Nigeria that he knows and this is the nature we should be engag­ing with. It’s the nature of full of hon­or. It’s the Nigeria full of fun. It’s the major you full of wis­dom, and light, and love. 

These images are the rea­son that we want to engage with Africa. These are the rea­sons that we want to get to know each oth­er. Because we can see a sense of joy about our­selves, and that comes togeth­er. I think that giv­en that joy is an inhibitor of fear, then we will find more com­mon­al­i­ty in joy then we will in suffering. 

And we’ll also imag­ine unimag­in­able worlds like the worlds of Nnedi Okorafor, where she cre­ates women who have the abil­i­ty to fly, or leave Earth to go to a uni­ver­si­ty in space, or try and mas­ter their sor­cery. The great, amaz­ing images of Africa. And though she has many themes in her work, the work is not about the themes. She cre­ates because she wants to watch girls fly. She wants to watch girls hav­ing fun. 

And I do the same thing in my own cre­ation. I’m a film­mak­er. And I try and cre­ate because of the peo­ple who inspire me, the peo­ple who give me love and who encour­age me, and the peo­ple who make me want to defend their image. Because I want to hon­or them. And I know the pow­er of images so I cre­ate beau­ti­ful images of peo­ple for that sake. I do not want them to be mis­rep­re­sent­ed. And I know the pow­er of cre­at­ing a new stereotype. 

We are Afrobubblegum artists. We cre­ate for the joy of cre­at­ing. We cre­ate not in reac­tion to the West but because we are artists—we imag­ine. We imag­ine our future, we imag­ine our past, and some­times we mix them both togeth­er. And we are Afrobubblegum artists because we believe in a fun, fierce, and friv­o­lous Africa. And in time, the next per­son who asks me why is my film so impor­tant, maybe I’ll say, Actually it real­ly isn’t that impor­tant, not in the way that you think. It’s impor­tant because it shows a dif­fer­ent view. A much need­ed view of a glob­al Africa.” And, the next time we hear this tale about the lions learn­ing to speak we will fight back by say­ing the lions are speak­ing. And they’re speak­ing to each oth­er. And maybe now it’s time for the hunter to learn their joy-filled lan­guage. Thank you so much. 

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