Interview with Florence Wangui, visual artist at the GoDown Arts Centre
Interviewers: Anna Lafrentz and Isabella Schulz
Could you please introduce yourself? Who are you and what are you doing?
How do I answer that? I'm Florence, I'm an artist. I do many things. My interest in art is really wide, but I do mostly charcoal on paper. I paint with oils, acrylics. Right now, I'm doing some crows in iron sheets. And I'm doing the Stations of the Cross for a cathedral. I do many things. My interests in art are many.
How did you become an artist?
Professionally, I started last year, but I think people are born as artists. It's always there. You have to get an opportunity for it to come out. So I've been doing art ever since I can remember, I don't know when, but it's been there. I used to do cartoons and so on in my own way. That was my influence back then when I was little. I used to draw heroes. Plus my mom was not around 'cause she was a busy woman and my dad wasn't around either, so I spent most of my free time in the house. So most of the time, I used to draw.
What inspires you and what's the story behind the chicken theme?
I get inspired by, I call it 'life itself', the way I view life. 'Cause specifically, I don't know what it is that inspires me but I sum it up with ‘life’. The positives, the negatives. I can find inspiration in probably a bicycle or anything, whether it's alive or not. I view it. That's what makes me get inspired. So the chicken, I remember, it was last year. I had just arrived here and I was looking for something to concentrate on. I don't know how it came, but I just thought “Why not chickens?”. I have spent so much time with these chickens ever since I was young. Not the same chickens of course, they're not immortal. But they're interesting. And the way I viewed them, for me they were more like people. But they're still chickens, anyway. But they were interesting for me more than people at that time. And I still find them interesting. I've studied them for a while now and so many things are coming out. It's like a journey. I'm here to discover a lot. I think you never get there. You just keep developing from one level to the other.
Does the city of Nairobi affect you in any way?
Yeah, the energy! I like the people, I like us. The energy in and around Nairobi. I feel alive walking in the streets or in matatus. There's a side of course that you don't like and there are those things you like, but without these contrasts, I don't think there would be life. For me, it's life. There's air in Nairobi, and this is also one of my inspirations, I guess.
Do you think you, as an artist, play a specific role in this city energy?
Yeah, I believe artists are the healers of society. I don't know why I say that. Before I came here, I was in a rush. I was really down. I just finished my studies and people pressure you to find an office job, but my heart was set on art, so it was really hard to convince everyone, but I just decided I'll do it. And by the time I came here, I felt like I was at home for the first time. Of course I had fun, drinks, and parties before. But when I came here, I was at home for the first time. There was a certain energy about it and I felt I was at peace, I was me. I was more me than ever. And that came after looking at various paintings of various artists. It was also like medicine, it kind of healed me. Not really medicine, maybe energy, I don't know. But I was better than I was before. The clients that we have or anyone that comes in, there are those who never want to leave this place or they keep coming back, ‘cause there's something positive about this place. And it is through us and through the paintings. They feel it and they see it. So for me having experienced that, I would say artists are the healers of society. Art is healing, art is empowering, it's positive.