Staying connected to home: bringing your heritage into your space and into your work

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Staying connected to home bringing your heritage into your space and into your work

It’s been over 15 years since I left the place that I still consider my home: Kenya. As much as I’ve appreciated my experiences of living in the US (New York) and in the UK (London and Manchester) – and especially all the people I’ve met, who’ve made my life so much richer – Kenya remains my home.

I periodically reflect on this notion of “home”. What is home? For some it’s where they come from and for others, it’s simply where they live, at the present time. For me, the whole idea is something far less tangible.

When I am at home, I feel it. It’s in how my body just seems to naturally relax, feels more vibrant and literally glows. It’s in the ease of interacting with people and being understood (and this is not even to do with language but rather, our shared cultural experiences and values). And of course, the joy and comfort of family, and people who have known you for what seems like forever.

While these aren’t things I can carry with me, each time I return to my London base, there are two particular ways in which I’ve managed to keep home very close:

  1. By decorating my physical space
  2. Through the projects I initiate and choose to work on

Bringing home into my space

Staying-Connected-to-Home-African-Decor

[Vibrant colours and bold graphics that remind me of home: a Khanga cloth from Chichia London; ring trays from curio markets in Nairobi; a woven plastic mat from an African market in the UK]

Living in London has made a relative minimalist of me – I don’t have much space! What I do insist on is filling my space with colour and texture – things that I associate very strongly with home. While all the objects aren’t necessarily Kenyan (they are however, mostly African), they make me feel at home.

It’s easy to just collect a whole bunch of art, crafts and textiles and then overload a space. This approach may work for some. However, as I only have one room to call my own, I need to ensure that it is a space that delights me visually but, that also enables me to decompress. For me, this involves limiting what I call “visual noise” – i.e. an excess of visual stimulus, without a pattern or strong theme holding it all together.

So how do you create a vibrant space without visual noise?

Start with as plain a “canvas” as possible
Mine has plain white walls and ceilings and a stripped wooden floor. My furniture is either painted white or in its “natural” form (whether this is wood/ wood-like, wicker etc.).

Create a handful of focal points
This could be in the form of a couple of colourful textiles to drape over furniture – e.g. as a bedspread, as a curtain for a shelf or over a couch. This works as a way to reduce the visual noise (by covering up things like books, clothing, a shoe rack etc.). A few special pieces of art or statement furniture can also do the trick.

Pepper the space with tiny treasures
Various small knick-knacks can add accents of colour, texture and delight! I like for most of mine to be functional – again because of my limited space and pseudo-minimalism. A little bit of creativity can go a long way – e.g. I love bold jewellery and the way in which I store it can be a display of its own! I do have some objects that are merely decorative – bits and pieces that I’ve come across and fallen in love with, over the years.

Thanks to Marie Kondo and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I am even more strict with my rule regarding choosing what to keep and buy – I have to love it! I find this a great way to curate a space that truly brings you joy.

Staying-Connected-to-Home-African-Textiles-and-Accessories

[I have a thing for stripes! I’ve collected these bracelets and textiles from Kenya, as well as from African markets and generous friends in the UK.]

Bringing home into my work

In 2010, I started Afri-love and it has been a great excuse to stay connected with home :). It has involved exploring all kinds of creative expression and connecting with artists, designers, entrepreneurs and other like-minds, who are either at home or in the diaspora like myself. Personal projects, such a writing a blog or making things and sharing them, are such a great way to immerse yourself in an interest and develop your passion. Sometimes, opportunities arise from this that can have a significant positive impact on your professional life.

Tropical-Paleo-Prints-Lulu-Kitololo

Lulu-Kitololo-Art-Design-Creativity-and-Noise-T-shirts

[Top: my Tropical Paleo series of prints is inspired by foods found back home (such as tilapia and custard apples). Bottom: designs created in collaboration with Creativity and Noise, for their Afri-CAN line]

Early on in my career as a graphic designer, I figured out that I needed to work on projects that meant something to me. Thus, I’ve always been interested in Africa-related projects (some of which I’ve described in more detail). Several of these projects have been a result of somebody reading my blog and getting in touch.

These projects have included creating visual identities, print and digital materials for: continental health campaigns, homeware brands, film festivals, theatre companies, women’s organisations and charities and more (see some of last year’s highlights here).

Every project process begins with a research phase where I truly get to understand the client’s objectives and aspirations. Then we look at inspirational visual references. When it comes to these Africa-specific projects, that process often involves looking at: physical spaces (e.g. landscapes and the built environment); cultural activities (e.g. festivals and rituals); nature and; arts and crafts. This is often one of my favourite parts of a project, because I get to transport myself to these places (which, while they aren’t always specifically Kenyan, still resonate strongly), and then find creative ways of interpreting, reimagining, aggregating and transforming this data into original work.

Staying-Connected-to-Home-Africa-in-My-Art-and-Design

[Left: cards inspired by plants that were ubiquitous growing up. Right: a progress shot from the mural I created for the cross-cultural Home Affairs installation, last year]

Where the heart is

As much as Kenya is home, I’ve experienced a similar feeling of belonging in many places throughout my travels. In Tanzania (where my mother comes from); in the Caribbean; and even in New York and London! Sometimes it is the climate and landscapes that conjure up that feeling. Many times it’s to do with objects and spaces that create a familiar experience (for example).

However, as much as these physical things are such important cues – the most satisfying way to feel at home has always been down to people, and the magic we create when we are together.

What does home mean to you and how do you bring home into where you are and what you do?

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