Women in music, poetry, film, art, photography, literature and even media always fight twice as hard to get validation regardless of their skillset and knowledge. They are held to different standards without room to err while their male counterparts apparently have it easy. Baulking this dismissal, many of them have risen to command attention for being good and relentless at their jobs, writes Cynthia Mukanzi
Awuur Onyango is one of Kenya’s underrated visual artist, writer, photographer and film maker. Her work as a visual artist darts topics that have long been forgotten or obviously written out.
Onyango’s artwork themes explore self-perception, scrutinize history and catechise systemic erasure that blanks out important people or even topics from accomplishments.
In her recent three-part Biennale art installation, which she showcased in Johannesburg and Nairobi alongside two other artists from South Africa and Uganda, Onyango’s work probes systemic anxiety.
“In Jo’burg, we were looking at racism. In Nairobi, I was interested in women’s erasure in history. People look at the late Wangare Maathai as the only bold woman in our history but there are more,” she says.
The third phase of this exhibition will be in Berlin in August. She edifies people through her thought-provoking and erudite creativity; be it writing, photography, film-making or art.
“I want to make art that Kenyans can relate to. The industry is not well supported partly because most artists make art for tourists or expats, leaving out locals who may not connect with that kind of art,” she says.
She once expressed her love for the lens with a photo essay that interrogated the effects of slavery at former marked slave ports in Africa such as Lamu, Malindi, Accra and Jamestown.
The magnitude of her work has seen her exhibit and attend countless notable events.
Onyango remains quiet as her work speaks at high-end gigs such as The Library of Silence -Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra Ghana, Miss Babe v Mama Baby — Women’s Freedom Conference New York (October 2015), Of Freedoms Yet Unattained — Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA Review) Lagos and The African is Part of The Tour-SHE: An International Arts Collaboration exploring the construct of femininity, held in London.
With a background in French and English Law, the multitalented creative followed her heart into art, a place that still reeks of male dominance. Another artiste who is breaking barriers is Kasiva Mutua.
The renowned drummer has become a sensation with a skill that has been associated with men for a long time. Kasiva is now a highly sought- after drummer whose name is synonymous with events such as Safaricom Jazz Festival. A fellow at TEDGlobal 2017 Chapter, her sound beats to afrobeat, soul, reggae, zouk and Samba.
“Getting here has not been easy. There were frustrating times but I pushed on because I love what I do. It is therapeutic for me. It is where I lay my worries, express my joy and lately how my bills get paid,” she says. “I was never focused on the money. It was never about that. I just wanted to be good at my passion and share it with the world.
You see, being a female drummer doesn’t come by sitting. It is seen as a man’s world and so you have to be really good at it to have a fighting chance,” the Nile Project member tells Spice.
Not being shoved aside either is Muthoni Ndonga aka Muthoni Drummer Queen (MDQ). MDQ’s enterprising music wavelength and entrepreneurial prowess undeniably sets her apart. Her recent release SHE, is a beautiful embodiment of rhythmical art in motion. She teamed up with visual artist Michael Soi on the artwork and Swiss beat makers Greg “GR!”Escoffey and Jean “Hook” Geissbuhler in the making of her third studio album.
“I want to show the world that Kenyan creatives are truly world class and able to create and present conceptual work that is at par with leading creatives from all over the world,” she says. MDQ’s music is a preacher of all things ranging from self-love to civic awareness. Suzie Noma, Elevate, Lover and Kenyan Message are some of the captivating songs in SHE.
She also pans out as an entrepreneur with her long-running music event Blankets and Wine across East Africa and Africa Nouveau Festival, whose second edition spanned three days in February.
Women are also making a name in the poetry scene which for a long time has been testosterone saturated.
Spoken word artiste Tessy Aura who goes by Socratess on stage is one to watch out for.
She has tremendous pieces on empowerment that she matches with her astonishing strong stage presence.
Socratess asserts that there is an overwhelming male presence that might intimidate women who are very talented. “A couple of us are striving to challenge and change this. We are cooking up some things that we hope will result in the mainstreaming of the presence of women in poetry,” says the Poetry Slam queen.
Growing up in the US with her mother, she was raised confident but some people look at in the industry as haughty. “There was a time a slam judge once told me that I had an air of arrogance in my performances. If I was a man, I’m certain he would just say that I was confident. I think there is a kind of confidence that is unique to Americans.
Stereotypes hold that they are usually the loudest in the room, not afraid to show boaty, be wrong or to speak their minds. Now, I can think of numerous Africans who are like this but generally these qualities in our culture are not usually encouraged in women. Spending half of my life in the US interrogated that norm for me.
I was raised by a strong African woman who instilled in me the same qualities but the benefit added from being in America is that there were more spaces other than my mother’s house where I could practice my “arrogance” and not be condemned for it,” she says.