By Ogova Ondego
Published July 23, 2016
An animation buff who had always enjoyed drawing cartoons as she toyed with the idea of creating an animated TV show for children is turning her ‘fantasy’ into reality: creating what she describes as culturally-relevant television content for children.
Please introduce yourself.
I am Imaan Jemimah.
Would you care to say how your journey into the arts began?
I have had a lengthy love relationship with art. I think it was in the year 2000 when Mr Oduya set up the first curio shop in my home town, Kapenguria. The curio shop caught my attention because it was located on my way to and from school. I remember standing outside the shop, wide eyed and open mouthed, curiously peering at the wares inside. When I finally summoned the courage to step in the shop, I was enchanted by a myriad artworks and a display of various ornaments and carvings. From that moment on, I fell in love with art.
Just by stepping in the shop?
Yes, I became somewhat of an apprentice at Oduya’s curio shop. I helped around with odd jobs and in return I learnt how to mix paint, work with canvas, tie and dye and other aspects of fine art.
Who is Mr Oduya? What’s his first name?
Mr Oduya was my first art ‘teacher’ who set me on the arts route. Unfortunately I don’t remember his first name.
Does that mean you went on to study fine art in school?
Not really. There came pressures to ‘succeed’ in life after high school. I followed money and familial pressure in choosing a career on a path that left me miserable and unfulfilled.
What did you study in school?
I studied Sociology and Economics at Kenyatta University and graduated in 2012. Thereafter I took diploma studies in Brand Communication and Advertising in 2014.
What did you go on to do after graduation?
I have been working as a freelance content creator and manager since 2012. I was employed as a marketing executive for an interior design company in 2015.
That sounds like you quit employment . . .
The thought of waking up in 20 years to find that I was doing the same thing was devastating. So I decided to trust my instinct, quit my job and believe that it would all work out. It was a very scary decision to make and I still face my fears today.
That was a risky move you made.
I was guided by my gut feeling: ‘Be true to yourself; remember Mr Oduya and return to art.’ I followed my intuition and decided to get back into the arts.
But it was to animation rather than fine art that you turned.
I am an animation buff; I’ve always enjoyed drawing cartoons and, through the years, had toyed with the idea of creating an animated show for TV.
What’s the difference between animation and comics?
A comic is a story visually told using a sequence of illustrated pictures.
Animation is a process of making a film using a series of illustrated frame by frame pictures which, when they are displayed in sequence, create a movie.
How do both art forms relate to fine art?
While both comics and animation are forms of artistic expression, they are not categorised as fine art.
In early 2016 I conceived Tuma Tian, an animated children’s television show that I hope to put on air in 2017.
In what language will Tuma Tian be made?
In both English and Kiswahili, Kenya’s official languages.
Why do it in two languages?
Kenyan society being bilingual, this is the perfect way of teaching English to children.
‘Tuma Tian’ sounds like an Oriental character. How do you describe the initiative?
Tuma Tian is an educational platform that provides culturally-relevant and holistic educational media content for the Kenyan child. It aims to meet the demand for positive African educational content that is rich in values and taught in a way that children can enjoy and relate to. An educational TV series, it targets lower primary children.
What is your aim in creating this educational TV series?
Tuma Tian is more than a passion for me; it is what I believe to be my purpose in the service of my society. I believe that art can be used as a weapon for social change as it has the power to counteract and transcend tribalism, nepotism, classism and any other ‘-ism’ in Kenya and Africa at large. Tuma Tian is a tool for social change whose fruits are to be reaped in the future generation.
An adult creating content for children; it must be challenging.
As I produce Tuma Tian, I look at the content through the prism or the lens of the intended audience; lower primary school children. I study children by looking at what they do and the kind of learning they are into to find the most effective tool for teaching. I am constantly thinking about children, putting myself in their mindset to understand what makes them happy or sad; what makes them laugh and what they are passionate about. This way, I find the most effective way to impart teaching to them. I consider it a badge of honour to be able to express the inner child through my art.
So TV is still important even in this age of the internet and virtual reality?
As a child, I learnt a lot from TV and a lot of my understanding of the world was to some degree shaped by TV. Children get a sense of right and wrong from TV, I think entertainment is second to family as the most effective tool for socialisation. For this reason, entertainment can be used as a solution in mitigating the issues we face in this country and the world at large. Unfortunately, our children are exposed to hyper-sexualised, morally-decadent and culturally-irrelevant entertainment from the western world. I am creating content that is educational, culturally-relevant and safe enough for parents to let their children watch without fear of moral corruption.
Do you know anything about UNESCO’s Africa Animated! initiative?
Have you ever heard of Africa Animated!, an initiative though which UNESCO sought to create short animated movies for children in Africa?
I’ve heard of the UNESCO’s Africa Animated!
How does Tuma Tian compare with UNESCO’s Africa Animated!?
Like UNESCO’S Africa Animated!, Tuma Tian is aimed at meeting the demand for culturally-relevant television content for children.
Seven months down the line, what challenges are you facing as you work on Tuma Tian?
It’s one thing to be a talented and passionate hobbyist and a completely different thing to be a professional working artist. There is an unseen and often excruciating monotony that comes with a career in animation. However, there is also a sense of utter joy and fulfillment that comes with it.
To deal with the ebbs and flow of working as an artist, the one thing I cling to everyday is my passion for this craft and the greater purpose. I know for a fact that I will go to the ends of the earth to realise Tuma Tian and it is this passion that fuels my grit, to stay up and work till the wee hours of the morning. I highly doubt that I could put this amount of effort on anything else – at least not right now.
As I journey in the creation of Tuma Tian, my belief in knowing that there is a greater good in what I am doing is what keeps me going in the times when I feel my future is uncertain and having a career in this industry may not work out. I am optimistic in realizing this dream and as I have come to learn, the glass half full mentality is very important in chasing an artistic career.
Why do you “feel my future is uncertain” and that “having a career in this
industry may not work out”?
Tuma Tian is in its initial stages of production and it’s produced by Kuza Foundation whose survival depends on grants and donations. I am hoping that organisations and individuals will help us in producing and putting Tuma Tian on air.
What do you plan to do if Tuma Tian is a success?
Success for Tuma Tian at this point is to raise enough funds to meet the budget for the first season to air in September 2017; and also to produce a series that resonates with children. By these standards, if Tuma Tian is a success, I would start working on the second season.
What will you do if it fails to take off?
Failing is not an option here; however, it would be disappointing to have to delay this project to a time when we have organised for adequate funding.
How do you support yourself as you do art?
I still work as a freelance content creator besides having invested in a family business.
How is the outfit under which you operate set up?
We are a social enterprise known as Kuza Foundation and our mission is to educate, entertain and also morally instruct children by producing relevant and uplifting content that will bear fruit in years to come.