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An African Minute: 5 Questions with Artist Chief Nyamweya


Chief Nyamweya is an artist and writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is passionate about re-telling African stories through the contemporary power of art. He is also the founder of Emergency Webcomic, a comic based on the life and times of Kenyan National hero Dedan Kimathi that is set amidst the 1952 -1960 Mau Mau uprising in British East Africa. As part of Okayafrica's brand new series, "An African Minute," we asked Nyamweya 5 questions about what inspires him and how his work contributes to the changing global perception of Africa.

1. What is the "emergency" in "Emergency WebComic"? What is the idea behind this comic?

The "emergency" in the name of my first webcomic was a reference to the declaration of a State of Emergency in Kenya in 1952. I just wanted to tell a great story and, maybe, get young people interested in that little-understood period of our past. It wasn't meant as an encyclopaedia, but it contained enough fact to provoke the reader to want to visit more authoritative sources. Just as Asterix did for Roman history....Unfortunately, Emergency may have been ahead of it's time. In spite of it's popularity, there weren't any distributors who'd carry it, and I didn't have the critical mass online to sustain it full-time. So I had to park it for the time being.

2. What do you find you most challenging about being an artist, and specifically being an artist in Kenya?

Firstly, it's a challenge to find viable business models to make working as an artist sustainable, but not impossible. There are a lot of talented people out there who gave up trying and became accountants. I find this challenge exciting. Besides, I love what I do, so it's a bonus to make a living from what I would do anyway for free.

Secondly, there's not much of an established comic book industry in Kenya, so you find yourself make it up as you go along. Again, I find this to be a noble challenge.

3. How do you fund your creative projects?

There is soooooooooo much material all around us as Africans! The good thing about having our perspective ignored by the world for so long is that we're the one part of the world which has no shortage of content. And I'm not talking about NGO sob stories. I mean love, romance, crime fiction, science fiction, all with an African flavour!

4.What do you think will change about the creative economy in Africa over the next five years?

It will become a lot more entrepreneurial. In Nairobi this is already happening. Young people coming out of school in Nairobi have a new-found arrogance (and I use "arrogance" in a positive sense) and are taking charge of their future. They aren't willing to cow-tow to their inept predecessors, their government or employers. They are cheetahs. In five years, the energy around this generation would have made such a centre as Nairobi is very attractive to clients and distributors from around the world.

5.Lastly, your thoughts on changing the global perception of Africa?

I feel privileged to be growing up in these interesting times! We still have the negative stories out of Somalia, Ivory Coast etc, but for the first time, these stories are tempered by the verve of the Cheetah Generation. Asia responded early, but the world will catch up.

We also discovered other little unknowns about Chief Nyamweya. For instance, before he became Chief Nyamweya, "David" was on his birth certificate. He is independently self taught. He says that his country's future, and his role in it, as well as his continent's future and it's new place in the world inspire him. When asked what he would be doing if he wasn't an artist, he replied: "I'd probably go back to being the bored-to-death lawyer I was, and commit suicide after a year or so."

For more on Chief Nyamweya visit his latest crime fiction comic "Roba." We suggest you click the "enlarge" icon on the slide show below to get a better view of Nyamweya's incredible work.

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Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

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