Born in Ikonyero village of Kenya’s Western Province, the sky is the limit for 34-year-old Adiala Daniel, Director of Muafrika Promotions, an Advertisement and Design firm. Despite his inability to pursue further studies, Adiala is performing enviable artistic feats and is slowly changing the art dimension in Kakamega town, which is known for a host of sign writers only. On visiting his office, I found him toying with plasticine. In a short time, he had made a model of my face in relief.
AE: To begin with, why did you entrench yourself in Kakamega town, widely credited for low money circulation?
AD: I believe in getting what I want and never tire till I acquire it. Profit involves studying a peoples' perception and tailoring products to suit their taste and income. It also involves convincing them to see the need for the service one is offering. It is not easy but one has to focus on the long term effect.
AE: Many artists concentrate in big cities and abhor the countryside for lack of “big business”. Are you happy to be upcountry?
AD: Absolutely! Many people with expertise in various fields opt to work elsewhere, developing other regions while their homes remain backward and hungry for the same expertise. Charity begins at home. Our training is for service. Much as we work in other regions, we have to leave a legacy in our home villages. Nanicross, a German Stained Glass Specialist based in Kitengela (on the outskirts of Nairobi) advised me that it is not a must to work in big cities. “If your work is good, people will follow you wherever you are,” she said. It all depends on branding oneself through meeting the customers’ needs.
AE: Briefly mention your Art history.
AD: While young, I used to graze my parents’ animals. In the pastures, I’d model the cows, using mud. Looking for images that were more permanent, I endeavored to curve the animals on wood and later on stone. Later on, I delved into drawing the landscape and paint using pounded leaves, flowers, and foliage sap. When I joined Ingotse High school, we were given a simple design assignment to distinguish who would study Technical Drawing or Art and Design. I qualified to sit for the latter.
At this stage, my dad intervened and discouraged me from taking art as a subject. “Choose subjects that will sell,” he advised. That’s how I landed in the Technical Drawing class, to enable me be an architect and “get a lot of money” in future. As fate would have it, we lacked a teacher for Technical Drawing and I found myself in the Agriculture class. This didn’t fascinate me and I protested till I was taken to the Art and Design class again.
AE: How did your dad receive this?
AD: On seeing my interest, he not only accepted but also employed a practicing artist to give me extra coaching. I did well in my fourth year exams in 1990 and joined Buruburu Institute of Art which had just opened its doors in 1993, as a pioneer student. I got my Diploma in Fine Art where I majored in Sculpture and Multimedia crafts.
AE: Do you have a piece of advice for parents?
AD: Oh Yes! Parents should allow their children to be what they are meant to be and specialize in areas of potential strength. Specialization is a hallmark of profit and gain.
AE: Why didn’t you pursue your career to Degree level?
AD: Lack of funds. Up to the time I acquired my Diploma, my education had cost my parents the sale of animals and land. I didn’t want to torture them further.
AE: What are some of your accomplishments?
AD: I did a giant mosaic for St. Vincent’s Training Center in Nairobi, titled “Bright Future Through Learning”. At Kisumu, I did a sculpture for Kisumu Beach Resort as well as paintings, monuments and sculptures for Sigoti Cultural Center and Kimwa Hotels. In Kakamega, I made billboards for the National Cereals and Produce Board (Western Area). I replicated the famous “Crying stone” for Premier Hotel and did paintings and sculpture for Jaminda’s Paradise and Western Grill Hotels. I cast the Kakamega Town Hall Coat of Arms in fibre glass and made life size busts for Hon. Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and Cyrus Jirongo. I have designed logos, printed T-Shirts and banners, calendars, posters, made plaques, done interior and textile design…the list is endless.
AE: Were you doing all this single handedly?
AD: Most of my work in Nairobi was done in conjunction with Kuona Trust based at the Kenya National Museum. In Kisumu, I teamed up with Power of Art (POA) and a traveling theatre under International Drama Association. My work in Kakamega has been done single handedly.
AE: Tell me something about the Power of Art.
AD: It is a group I helped found in 1998 with four other colleagues. Two of them went to US, one lady got married, one guy opted to freelance and that was the end of the group.
AE: Are you married?
AD: Not yet. I am single but engaged. My nature of work calls for lots of hours away from home and maximum concentration. That can make one feel I am antisocial. My fiancée understands though.
AE: What are some of the “downs” you have encountered?
AD: Most rural folks appreciate art works but can’t pay for them. I am sure they’d purchase If their income base is improved. I have many art concepts I would love implemented but start up capital poses a major challenge. The price of art tools are exorbitantly high hindering execution to the desired end.
AE: Walking along Kimathi Street in Nairobi, one will see paintings displayed with prices beyond the reach of ordinary Kenyans. What’s your reaction?
AD: Sometimes artists price their work highly because they earn once in a while. One does not know when any other pay will come. Our skills can’t be bought like vegetables in the market. We sell the value – not the canvas. Exorbitant prices are also attributed to middle men who buy a painting at say Kshs. 600 and sell at Kshs. 6,000, being in link with the market. If artists rose to a level of selling goods themselves, I’m sure costs would reduce.
AE: What are some of your New Year resolutions?
AD: To be the most effective organization in design and advertisement in Western Kenya and beyond. Since I do a lot of production, I would like partners to work with me in aspects such as marketing and processing orders. I would also like to get a bigger office as my 5 ft by 6 ft office doesn’t suffice for a reception, office, showroom and work room. I have a dream of setting up an Art Center in Kakamega to serve Western Kenya. This Art Center will train widows, street children, orphans, and 'bodaboda' cyclists in professional multimedia crafts such as handmade clothes, carvings, handcrafts and such for export. This will provide an alternative way of earning and increase the income base of the region. A center with state of the art equipment will save local groups the pain of purchasing equipment beyond their reach. They could use it as a resource venue to produce and market art products.
AE: What is the largest amount of money you have ever realized as a group and as an individual?
AD: Not much! Kimwa Hotels paid our group Kshs. 300,000 but being young, peer pressure prevailed on us to go places. I’ve visited most big hotels in Kenya. At the end of it all, the money was gone but left me wiser on investment. The billboard design I did for National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) earned me Kshs. 60,000. This enabled me to buy some art tools and keep some money for lean times.
AE: What would you tell youths who are going to cities en masse?
AD: They need to think outside the box. There are things they can still do in their village and earn a living. I have been to areas where the youth have migrated to the cities while public transport vehicles in their place are dirty. Why can’t they start car wash services? Others hail from areas where people relieve themselves in the bush. Why can’t they set up pay-toilets? The white-collar job mentality must cease! There are always opportunities for self-driven people.
AE: Suppose somebody asked you to mention your greatest current need, what would it be?
AD: A Plotter. It does marvelous designs and costs between Kshs. 300,000 – 500,000.
AE: Why call your firm Muafrika ?
AD: “Muafrika” means produced in Africa by an African. I believe Africans can be productive if they harness available resources. Out of Africa too, can emanate services needed by the world. I am willing to work with people who are convinced that Africa has something to offer to the world. I am exploiting my talent. What are you doing?
AE: This reminds me of someone who said that he was tired of hearing people talking about life expectancy. “What are you expecting?” He asked. “You have the life. Live it!”
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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