Creating a product to represent an underrepresented group is often the very nature of entrepreneurship - even Uber fights for anyone who has been at the mercy of taxi services. TED Fellow, speaker and artist Wanuri Kahiu is keenly interested in showing the other side of a misunderstood continent: Africa. Her sci-fi movies like Pumzi focus on what she calls "fun, fierce and frivolous" entertainment, a sharp counterpoint to the serious, heavy art usually associated with Africa and her native Kenya. The award-winning filmmaker gave tactics on how to thrive financially as an artist while keeping your integrity in tact.
Why does storytelling tend to tell more truth than nonfiction?
Does it? Fiction and nonfiction are both quite engineered. Although nonfiction follows 'real' events, we still ask our main characters to live through experiences they wouldn't normally live through on camera. We also format both fiction and non fiction films into the classic three-act structure because it's a technique that almost all audiences understand. In nonfiction sometimes, we set up situations so we can find ways to communicate our message. I have found both to be quite useful ways at poking at particular truths but neither reveals more truth than the other.
The toughest challenges often happen after we have a big success. What process did you go through to move forward after winning the African Movie Academy Award for From a Whisper?
The illusion/disillusion that winning the awards came with money was the hardest to overcome. People had expectations that I couldn't live up to and as a result I had to grow a very thick skin to get through all the criticism and hard talk.
You mentioned that other people had different expectations of you after your award. How did you manage your expectations of yourself?
Good question. I learnt to define my own success and hence my expectations of success differently. Success does not mean wealth but rather, it's a lifestyle. An awareness that you are living the life you want despite your income. Success means the inclusion of family and friends, not just work and financial gain. Everyday, I learn more about my expectations of myself and relearn how to be successful now.
How do you make sure your business is in order while still concentrating on making good art? Do you alternate your focus day to day or assume that, if the art is good, the business will sort itself out?
The only way to make sure business is in order is to surround yourself with people good at business. it's important to work with a team you trust and have the same goals and beliefs.
You've already followed through on ambitions as a published author and filmmaker it's tough to do just one! It also requires business savvy. How has storytelling helped you strive as an entrepreneurial artist?
Storytelling is who I am. I boxed myself in so that I had no other option but to find ways to make a living from storytelling. I gave myself no other choice. I had to survive, pay rent, live on storytelling, so I have found ways to make it work. The most beautiful realization is that everything needs a story, numbers, graphs, statistics are all stories, so my job has become the interpretation of data into stories.
Your work is now on a bigger world stage. How have you adjusted your ambitions as you've gotten exposed to the world beyond Kenya? How is your message evolving?
I don't believe that Kenya is my only platform, never have. I have always made work for a world stage and then waited for the world to see it. That's the trick: Finding new ways for audiences to see your work. I'm an artist, I make work for the millions of likeminded people who think/ work/ live for a different view of our world. My work is often not the expected view of Africa and this is why I think it is necessary. My message changes from film to film, but my style is the same: the eternal search for belonging.
What is the best piece of advice you can give someone who wants to make a financially viable living creating their art?
If you are an artist and not great with numbers and business, find a team that believe in your work and create systems that will help you earn money. It also helps to find supporting work within the field for the slower months. I make commercials part time to make extra income.