Arts View

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Dec 2021 – Feb 2022

Sandra A. Mushi

Sandra A. Mushi

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Sandra A. Mushi is a writer, visual artist and designer. Her early years saw her shuttling between Tanzania, Botswana and UK.

Subsequent to studying interior design at Cape Peninsular University of Technology in South Africa, she went on to begin a career as an interior designer. Sandra is founder and head of ‘Creative Studios’, an interior design and project management boutique studio in Dar es Salaam.

AGN: As an individual who is gifted with different creative abilities how do you decide which takes precedence?

SAM: Since I need to eat and live, at the moment interior architecture design takes precedence as it is what puts food on my table.  I wish I could make a career from writing as I have so many stories that I want to tell.  Unfortunately writing does not pay in Tanzania, or in many parts of Africa. I am not complaining as I absolutely love what I am doing,

AGN: To what extent would you say your childhood which was spent in different countries/continents impacted your sense of creativity?

SAM: Being physically exposed to different cultures from a young age has made it easier for me to appreciate art from many different places, as well as appreciate how culture contributes to the development of our beliefs and values, and how unique cultural behaviours and characteristics that are ingrained in certain cultures influence the creativity of that area.

AGN: Is there a word, phrase or outlook that best sums up your creative output?

SAM:  When I design an interior space I bring in the owner’s unique personality.  When I write it is to make sense of the senseless and to give the voiceless a voice.  When I paint it is in celebration of women.  I am very passionate about the girl-child by the way.

AGN: Who are your artistic influences and what is it about their work that make them standout?

SAM: People around me; their stories and culture inspire me.  The feminine voice also inspires me greatly.  I always want to write poetry whenever I listen to Neo-soul musicians such as Jill Scott, India Arie and Heather Headley.  When I read pieces from African writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Doreen Baingana,Elen Banda Aku I want to write fiction. and when I listen to Afro Soul musicians such as Zonke Dikana (my absolutely new favourite!), Thandiswa, Nomfusi, Moneoa, Simpiwe Dana, Siphokazi, Zahara and Lira I want to sing – which unfortunately I cannot. 

AGN: Is there a general misconception you feel people have about art from Tanzania and is this specific to Tanzania or does it apply to the continent as a whole?

SAM: I would like to generalize here and talk about African art – one misconception is that modern African art is a derivative of Western art.  I think this belief holds because many a times we tend to look to the Western world for inspiration in different areas. With respects to art, many do not know that it was actually African art that influenced European Modernist art.  Abstract African art inspired many great European artists.

Be that as it may, we need to appreciate and acknowledge that African art is changing with the times.  African art is more than the ceremonial masks and carvings we are used to seeing.

AGN: Music is generally considered to be the art form that has the biggest reach from Africa. Which would you say is the art form that has the shortest reach and why do you feel that is the case?

SAM: I would say written literature has the shortest reach; and this is because we do not have a strong reading culture.  If you were to compare Tanzania with other African countries, we have produced relatively few writers and acclaimed works.  Books here are also quite expensive and are not easily accessible in many areas.

It is getting better, but we are not there as yet.  I am delighted though that there are so many youths in Tanzania who are now interested in writing and are doing so. However, publishing opportunities are lacking as most publishers focus exclusively on publishing educational books.

AGN: How does the arts scene compare to a decade ago and where do you see it going in future?

SAM: It is exciting!  There is so much happening in Tanzania right now as there is massive interest and openness towards the arts unlike how it used to be.  Writing, painting, film making, theatre, sculpturing etc are all considered to be cool… it really is exciting and we are getting there. I have even seen some schools introducing art courses into their school curriculum at the early stages of education, something which was not done in the past.  Previously art was not really encouraged in schools.

Both worlds are now being embraced and celebrated; that is the indigenous cultural art and modern African or globally influenced forms.  In fact just the other day I attended a Swahili poetry and jazz event.

AGN: A number of artists lament that far too few of their clients are based on the continent. How would you describe your own situation?

SAM: As an interior designer all my clients are in Tanzania.  I would love to spread my wings across the continent.  It has been the same with my writing as well.  My paintings have caught the attention of people as far as Scotland, the Netherlands and the US, but I have not sold them as yet as I do not seem to be able to let them go.

AGN: It is documented that you studied graphic design. What formal training did you take before commencing publication of your works or producing paintings?

SAM: None. The only formal training I have received is for interior design and graphic design classes were part of the course.

AGN: Do you have any other artistic talents that people are not generally aware of which you might one day develop too or just enjoy for your own personal pleasure when the opportunity avails?

SAM: If I have any other, I am not aware of it as yet.  I wish I could sing but I sound like a dead frog when I try to.  I do enjoy preparing and cooking food though… does this count?

AGN: What do you like to do in your spare time?

SAM: If I am not out visiting friends and family, then you will find me indoors painting, reading or writing but this depends largely on whether I am feeling inspired.   If my muse is acting up, then you will find me designing.  I know. It is sad.

AGN: Is there a unique value or trait that is attributable to the place, region or people you are from that manifests in how you operate or even possibly is reflected in your artistic output?

SAM: My usage of kitenge fabrics and beads on my paintings is indicative of our culture.

AGN: Is there a particular person or persons that personally helped set you on the path of realizing your creative ambitions?

SAM: My parents. I was quite a handful as a child. To keep me in one place my mother used to give me pieces of paper. She had realised that if you want Sandra to be quiet, give her paper and crayons.

My mother was studying at that time so some peace was much needed to enable her attend to her studies uninterrupted.

When she ran out of paper, she would give me cardboard boxes from toothpaste, pasta etc packaging. Then she started buying me books. On weekends, when not working my father used to take me to museums. He had actually wanted me to take up fine art as a career. I had to do a whole lot of convincing when I told him that I wanted to study interior architecture design.

AGN: If you hadn’t chosen the path of art and design what else did you feel strongly inclined to do?

SAM: From a young age I have loved nothing but art. That is the only most expressive language that I know. I have never had any firm inclination towards other fields.

Of late though, after I started writing more seriously, I have become really fascinated with the human mind. It is a must for me to get into the mind of each character I write about. Through doing so I have found myself becoming more and more interested in how the mind works,

AGN: What can we expect from you in future?

SAM: Apart from striving to work more with local skilled individuals in order to provide them with income stability, I really want to try my hand at film making. I would like to convert one or two of my short stories into film.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

© 2021 All rights reserved - Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Dec 2021