Moira Bush : “I make my work for whoever it moves… The form they take is out of my control”

Published Saturday , August 15 2020 | Moira Bush Kimani by theSystem *

Could you please tell us a bit about your background and how you got into Art?

I was born in Mombasa (1990)and raised in Nairobi.I discovered my love for art most strongly during high school, i spent most of my free time on the sports field or in the art room… after high school i proceeded to forget for a full 8 years that i was an artist at heart, mostly because art was presented as a hobby and not a viable career option. I began to remember by doing a few photography projects and collaborations with friends in 2010 while studying law in Malaysia. The rush of creating something out of seemingly nowhere was more than welcome in a reality that favors replication.

3 years later, after a brief stint studying fashion design i was sure that this is what i wanted to do. Art itself in all the forms that i could manage to express it.

I met artists at Masaai Mbili and Kuona trust who encouraged me to pursue art.

It really wasn’t until 2016 when my career picked up and began to pay better. and in 2018 i was invited to join Brushtu artists collective as a permanent member.

What was your first encounter with a piece of work they really aroused a particular investment into Art and what was your impression?

It was at a friends place where i saw in the bathroom a print of Salvador Dali’s Temptation of Saint Anthony which absolutely blew my mind and began my adventure into surreal art. I loved the idea that i could have a fish in a train or a sheep underground etc (these were not my thoughts at the time, just examples of my thought process). i found that the surreal was closer to how i see the world than any realism could present.

I tend to enjoy telling myself stories, or making up my own personal mythologies that borrow from themes I have interacted with. – Moira Bush Kimani

When you say ‘a reality that favors replications’ is this in part the reason why you got drawn to surrealism as opposed to realism do you aim to fight banality ?

Haha! i had not made that connection but yes, precisely..

I found that one of my biggest influences is in Japanese anime, which taught me some of the the more complex, fine if you will, concepts of relating to my inner and outer worlds. it even to a point informs some of my aesthetics and love of storytelling in my art where i have noticed a pattern of imagining scenes of growth and evolution.

I also found that doing seemingly unrelated activities directly develops my modes of execution in my pieces, whether its eco building that leads me to work with clay in a different way, or makes me think of community systems and how that determines how we build our dwellings which leads to topics i will eventually address in my art pieces.


Your life sounds quite nomadic , how does your experience with different environments and cultures inform your practice?

I lived along the edge of the Nairobi national park for 4 years which allowed me to interact with the more natural elements taking me away from conventional mediums such as paint, paper and canvas; and into bone, wood and grasses.

This gave my mind a whole new angle as i had to think in a way that i couldn’t google and had to actually study these materials in order to understand their properties.

Would you consider your work as purely intellectual, and do you consider aesthetics strongly?

I wouldn’t consider my work to be purely intellectual. although there are very strong elements concepts that are intellectual. for me aesthetics and concepts go hand in hand. i try to use common symbols where it is possible. though i have seen that many times i have had to explain my works due to them not always having an apparent meaning. over time i have gotten a glimpse of my aesthetic signature.

I’m an admirer of your work and it’s very I would say very delicate , do you find hard to explain your work or yourself?

Thank you.. Not so much actually, if I find it difficult it might be in moments of (negative) self-consciousness. I tend to enjoy telling myself stories, or making up my own personal mythologies that borrow from themes I have interacted with. Some works I refuse to explain as the meaning is of a personal nature, some have no meaning at all but use aesthetics that hold meaning to me. All in all it depends on who I am explaining myself or my work to, given that many works have an on going or unfolding meaning/s which one can mine from for years.

What is your relationship with people and what role does it play in your work?

I generally like them lol, not many things beat external thought processes to oneself. I find it easy to interact deeply with strangers (if we can meet on a similar wavelength). I feed of off their different perspectives and incorporate that which makes sense to me while shelving others pending confirmatory or nugatory experiences.

Your formally educated in two other different fields tell us about that transition and what education is contributing in your practice or point of view towards creativity?

I did not complete either, I spent two semesters in each of these fields getting the just of the principles offered. For law: the rigidity of how things are handled- things that seemed very straight forward frustrated my affirmative action spirit. And i projected that I would be deeply dissatisfied were I to pursue it any farther. I elected to follow the dream in a different arena. On the ground, as it were.

Fashion design: for a person that enjoys upcycling and recycling, I looked at Nairobi textiles and Gikomba and imagined thousands of clothes that could be upcycled rather than buying fresh fabrics constantly in hopes of competing with the Zara effect. I felt that the course short changed my creativity by attempting to direct how and what and when I created. If there was a course specially for upcycling I might have stayed longer.

And you are channeling that upcycling spirit with your current practice….

Yes,, i regularly do so with my shoes and clothes as well as visiting Orodha’s where i buy things that i repurpose and recycle. majority of my sculptures involves recycling objects, mostly metals which i seem to have an affinity for.

There is a huge global conversation around sustainability in both the fashion and art industries, which i find quite pretentious , what is your take on the issues as a individual who is interested in both fields ?

Regarding fashion industry. I feel that these conversations are similar to what we are witnessing with the BLM movement where these things are reactionary, more of an attempt not to get caught in the cross fire once people wake up to the fact that these industries have been conducting their business as usual knowing the unsustainability they have been perpetuating.

I look at art as a form of rebellion to social norms, Are you engaged in politics and what causes do you advocate for with your work if you do?

Its difficult not to be engaged though i engage mentally as i have little hope in engaging directly… i look for ways in which i can do so as an individual no matter how small scale… i have several art pieces in my head that address what i have seen in our politics and cannot exactly tell you why i have not brought them out yet. my biggest point in addressing what i see is the kids. i have a passion for getting people to finally understand what children are so that we can stop perpetuating the lie that they are incompetent and need to be coerced to do things. i believe in giving them the space freedom and security within themselves to solve the problems of this world that are apparent to them but which we as adults lie to ourselves and them that ‘its not that simple’.

So what are your feelings on the current political climate both locally an globally ?

Its all bullshit, none of the things that matter, regardless of all the findings are being addressed. and all the things that don’t matter or exacerbate the situation are being emphasized. and this is going on EVERYWHERE.

Now the largest consumers or works of art are capitalist , (correct me if i’m wrong) what are your sentiments on capitalism and the art world and is it a conflicting topic?

There is a conflict in that exchange but only in black and white. And for me, art is about alchemy. The monetary exchange provides me, as an artist, an opportunity to do something meaningful with what I receive in exchange for my works, even if that is simply taking care of myself. I could choose to see it in a poetic manner because purchasing one’s creation ultimately supports their cause whether the collector is aware of it or not… Some of these capitalists make it possible for artists to create incredible public art that they may never have been able to achieve single handedly… I don’t try to divert from how tricky it all is, though!

Last time we talked you alluded to art being a form of luxury , is this something you as an Artist consider or is it a consideration of consumers of art or is it just in the general psyche of the society?

I think it is all of them depending on where one is standing. When you are on food and rent and have little disposable income after those bills, then art is the last thing you’ll think of purchasing no matter how much you love it.. at a time like this even I consider it to be a luxury. In ordinary times though I feel that art is a necessity… everyday I see lots of works that move me and I know that even though one might not get to its full meaning the jolt into the artists eye is enough to get some gears rolling. That value transcends the ability to purchase it.

I like ‘that value transcends the ability to purchase it” do you think how art is represented in the media historically and how its presented contributes to the sentiments of the observers?

It does in many ways… Though I feel that such a view largely applies to people who have never attempted to create art themselves. I feel it speaks of a lack of understanding of our individual language/expressions. This is what makes us identify an artists work even from a distance. I can understand it from the point of taste. Some people like pencil work only, it speaks to them others impressionism just gets them and so on. There’s the natural and the artificial where like you say the media usurps ones on ability to decide whether something is pleasing to their eye and inserts its own bias’s and definitions of what art is meant to look like.

Is there a universal formula of understanding works of art?

Perception’s lense has so many angles. I can have looked at an artwork 5 years ago and seen something and then look at it today because of the various intervening experiences between then and now and see something that perhaps had I looked at it a few days sooner I would never have seen. I could go from loving to hating an artwork… I might look at it on a good day and see something crazy and tomorrow I can no longer find it.

Should it be objective or subjective?

I don’t believe they need be mutually exclusive.

What is your relationship to symbolism , masks and ethnicity that appear in your works?

Symbolism: I try to use symbols that can be deciphered by as many people as possible while maintaining a suggestive nature. I feel that some of the symbols I’m drawn to are relevant or will be relevant in the near future. I work with patterns and if I keep seeing something I will look up it’s meaning and try to divine why I am personally seeing it. I take it like a game of sorts.

Masks: the mask was once a gateway for the spirit world. Today, we no longer know the stories that would allow us to recover the traditional use of the mask. We instead have everyday masks for who we are not- not really. When I create some masks it is as though I am creating the mask that will unmask who I am not into who I am. I create masks for made up deities, to give them form and characteristics I wish to invoke within myself. Or as a form of extraction.

Ethnicity: as a person who has deep interest in anthropology, our original and our true nature, the place I turn to is our past. Far from the desperation and unfairness they try to paint our indigenous ways with. I think of objects and things that were precious, colours and shades (frequencies) that were commonly seen. I try to go back through these elements. I would call it a form of nostalgia.

How would you describe your work in one line?

I see it as an exploration of my inner and outer world’s.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am doing some mixed media paintings. This covid has over turned my raison d’etre. And I am in search of a new one… I will probably paint the search.

Do you have a clear idea of who your work is for or who is interested in your work and how does that motivate your aspirations?

I make my work for whoever it moves… The form they take is out of my control… There are some people who jazz me coz they point out something that I subliminally (even to myself) included and for sure they hit the nail on the head. A conversation in which an observer deciphers codes I had yet to see is like being embraced by the back of my own mind via a proxy lol!

I don’t know if we are called but i strongly believe that we are driven by our intuition to chose what we choose to do , what do you aspire to achieve with your practice eventually ?

First I want to free my art from money. I want to create and give or sell or keep at will. So that I can make works for years. I’d love to learn many unrelated skills and merge them with art. I’d like to teach systems of thought once I have developed enough. And I’d like to gather indigenous practices and knowledge before they disappear. I want my art to fund all these goals.

What is interesting you at the moment?

Human nature.

What do you make of the creative scene in East Africa?

From the amazing works I’ve seen from my small window online, it’s coming up like a Maverick; more females are braving the artist life. And more young people are viewing it as a viable career. In terms of infrastructure we’re not doing that great but demand will create these structures. More people are coming together to form collectives which will give a running advantage and support systems to members. I feel that we are still exploited and stifled by the lack of diverse galleries that can represent different spheres of the art scene: emerging, established and in between. All in all though, I believe that we are gaining strength in numbers though it is my wish that we never fall into the bureaucratic pits where art loses its soul.

Indeed, what advice do you have for emerging creatives ?

I’d tell them to find allies, back each other up and run with it.

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