A day doesn’t seem to go by without us reading about another incredible African artist or digital maverick doing really cool stuff. That said, the past few years have had us awestruck as we marvelled at the fantastic applications we received for our then VR only and now AR/VR lab. As Electric South, we’re committed to shining light on the digital creative space in the region, and the stories of these rising African creatives — making their mark in the space — is one that we’re very committed to telling.
“Spotlight Artists” features African brilliant creatives as they give us a window into their craft. We’ll kick off this series with Jim Chuchu, one of our New Dimensions VR Lab pioneer residents and the director of the widely successful “Let This Be A Warning”.
Meet Kenya’s exceptionally talented multi-disciplinary artist, Jim Chuchu, whose vast range of work includes films, photography and music. He is a Founder-member of the Nest Collective (@thisisthenest), and co-founder of HEVA (@HEVAFund). Jim explores the complex layers of transcendence and his work takes us through African spiritual journeys from distant pasts and projects into the futures.
We persuaded Jim to takes us through his artist exploration of black spiritual bodies.
“Every time I have faced myself in my work, the results have been cathartic for me, and useful to other people.”
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
Jim: I’ve always found it difficult to describe myself as an artist. I shift mediums often, and with that comes an inability to define myself conclusively. I suppose the thing that connects all my multimedia adventures is an interest in black bodies beyond the very narrow frames within which we are defined by the world. I’m interested in the spirituality of black bodies, our inner lives, and the fact that we are so much more than we are known for (even to ourselves).
How did you find yourself in your space, and what’s your creative vision?
Jim: My artistic practice has been a series of coincidences, luck, blessings and inexplicable openings. I’ve been very lucky to get the opportunities I have had, especially the opportunity to define myself and my work for myself. Not many people get a chance to explore different mediums the way I have. I’ve also been very lucky to work with the people I work with, particularly the folks at the Nest Collective, who nurture me so much in different ways.
Regarding my creative vision, I think I’m deeply invested in putting together images, sounds and words that make black people realize how powerful we are. I know that sounds sweeping and ambitious. But I try to use my body, my voice and my hands to make things that evoke black power. Is it working? God knows.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Jim: Over the past year I’ve been consciously avoiding current affairs. This worldwide state of agitated belligerence that is fueled by constant news about how everything is breaking, everything is falling apart, Trump etc. I’ve disconnected from Facebook, Twitter, TV, everything — just to regain some sense of calm. And within that space of calm I can hear myself and explore quieter thoughts from a place of less noise. So, I suppose it’s helping me to create things that come from a calmer place — which I am enjoying. We’ve been working on a music project at the Nest over the past few months, which has been cool because it’s been a long time since I got to work on a large body of music work. I’ve recently been listening to music I never really properly understood before: hip-hop and rap. So, lots of the new-school stuff: Kendrick, ASAP, J. Cole as well as the foundation stuff: NAS, Pac, Biggie, Aesop Rock, Common etc.
Do you care how other people respond to your work?
Jim: Responses are certainly interesting, because they let you know how (dis)connected you are to everyone else. It’s always amazing to make a work that speaks to other people from other countries, other worldviews. And it’s also very interesting to make work that clashes with another set of people, because you get to see how different we can be from one another.
Generally, in a world where there is so much else to think about/ do/ watch, I’m generally happy when people take time to engage with something I/we have done.
What’s your favourite piece of work?
Jim: There are two videos I made in 2015 called “Invocations” that still give me the shivers. I remember as soon as one of them (“The Severance of Ties”) was done, I was afraid of it for a minute. Also, the trailer of “Stories of Our Lives” still gives me (and all of us at the Collective) mad goosebumps. Because I remember I hurriedly cut that trailer together in response to the Government coming after us. It seems that when I make work when I am in my feelings (angry, or scared) I am able to pass that on to the audience.
After “Stories of Our Lives” was released, folks from Kenya Film Classification Board came to our office and arrested a co-director at the Nest and later put out a statement saying that we had made pornography. So we had to cut a trailer for people to see what kind of film we had made: not pornography. I cut, scored and uploaded it in one day, in response to that press statement and the pushback we were starting to receive.
Would you say this was one of the most difficult challenges you have had to deal with as a creative?
Jim: Yes, but ultimately the most necessary. Now I am/we are not scared of many things.
Which creatives do you look up to and would you like to collaborate with?
Jim: Hmmm… My problem is that I’d be rendered mute by even standing next to people I admire. So, collaboration would be tough. I met Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote by accident recently, and I was such a mess.
Any advice you’d share with upcoming artists?
Jim: I suppose all I can say is ‘don’t be afraid to make work that renders you naked in its truth and honesty’. Every artist knows what that work is, and they either embrace that or run away from it. Every time I have faced myself in my work, the results have been cathartic for me, and useful to other people.
What are your plans for the future?
Jim: I still have a whole bunch of things I haven’t yet explored. And because I know the things I haven’t yet done, I don’t walk around feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. Plans for the immediate future — complete this music project at the Nest that I’m very excited about. I’m loving creating and singing with these wonderful people here, and exploring new sounds. That will be coming out over the next few months, I hope some people out there will dig it.
I have some photography ideas I want to explore. I haven’t had time in a while to play with my photography, but I’m consciously making time for it now.
Then, I’m enjoying going back to cooking. When I was a kid, I was certain I wanted and was going to be a chef (to the subtle dismay of my parents, lol). Then I found photography, film and music instead.