My Interview with Kenyan author Sunny Bindra
He recently endeared himself to the artistic community with his 12/09/2009 article titled We Need More Art, Artists and Artistry in which he argued that: “Technicians make the world go round; artists make it worth living in.”
I caught up with him at the Storymoja Hay Festival during the launch of his latest book The Peculiar Kenyan where he agreed to the following interview:
- You have argued for the integration of artistry with science and business; a sort of return to the old renaissance ethic of inventors such as Leonardo Da Vinci whose scientific and artistic sides complemented each other. How do you suggest we as a country reconcile business with art and aesthetic design?
By opening up our minds to the fact that mixing art and management makes perfect sense. Most people are closed to the idea. Artists just want to be creative, without a business thought in their heads; managers want to plod on as technicians, doing nothing new or daring or different. It’s just ridiculous. Want to see what combining art and business does? Look no further than Apple, which creates art in every product – and rewards its shareholders at amazing rates.
- Having travelled widely and even written a book about the peculiarities of Kenyans, which peculiarity have you found unique to this country, which Kenyan artists should leverage in order to distinguish themselves?
They’re all in the book – read it and see. We should learn to laugh at ourselves, and learn to use that laughter to create great art and great businesses.
- What is the greatest work of art you have experienced and why?
If I named just one I would be a very limited fellow indeed! I always have been moved by great works of art, from wonderful novels to dazzling poetry to soaring pieces of music to evocative paintings. I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to one – or even a hundred.
- Are you or were you ever a fan of comic books? Which one(s) in particular?
Very much so. My late mother, a teacher of literature, worried that I would ruin my English by reading comics. An aunt, also a teacher, convinced her to let me read them. Her view was: get him interested in reading anything, and then his desire to read better and better things will grow. I read them all: from Marvel to Archie to Beano to Eagle. My favourite, about human nature, remains Peanuts. You’ll never find a more ‘kichwa ngumu’ dog than Snoopy! My friends say I share some of his traits…
- This October 20th, we shall be celebrating Heroes Day (formerly Kenyatta Day) and my webcomic, Emergency, is all about history. What place do you feel history has in a progressive new Kenya?
The thing about history is this: either you learn what it teaches you or you keep repeating it. We have a tendency to try and forget our history, or hide it away. That is a mistake. We have to face up to our shortcomings and misdeeds, and teach them to our children. Then we can cleanse ourselves and move on. We must also remember that ‘heroes’ are not just politicians and freedom fighters. There are many, many ordinary people who lead good, honest, hard-working lives who never get mentioned. I sometimes try to showcase them in my newspaper columns.
- What advice do you have for aspiring young writers and artists?
Just keep going! Believe in yourself and your art and its possibilities. You may be forced to get a ‘day job’ to pay the bills, but never, ever let your art die. It is what you are here for, to enrich the lives of others. You will never achieve as much counting beans or ticking boxes for other people. You have something wonderful in your hands – develop it, nurture it, make it happen. I am never as happy as when I am consuming or producing art. When I listen to music, or when I write, time just flies. I lose track of where I am. Art has that quality – it consumes you. Artists make life worth living, they give it colour and texture and nuance and uplift. Art is honourable and noble, and we must meet its challenge. But we must produce GREAT art, not mediocrity or commercially diluted banality. Be in your life, however humble, but let your art soar out of it. Remember the Beatles: “I look at the floor, and I see it needs sweeping, still my guitar gently weeps.” What a song…
- What is the greatest obstacle you have experienced as a writer and how have you overcome it?
Simply finding the time to write. I have been fortunate enough to be successful as a consultant, advisor, teacher, speaker – and that eats into all the potential writing time I might have had. I have forced myself to make the time to write books, two so far. As life goes on I will phase out some things to try and make time for the ultimate writing: fiction.
- We have discussed the past. How do you feel about Africa and Kenya’s future in particular?
I am very hopeful. The signs are all there that things are coming together in the economy of Africa – a consumptive middle class is emerging, as are enough educated Africans able to make discerning choices. We just have the small problem of incumbent dinosaur politicians to deal with, but they will all be swept away by history. It will be Africa’s turn soon.
The Peculiar Kenyan is available on book shelves from November