Barbara Muriungi is a Kenyan designer, animator, and photographer whose designs have been featured extensively in the United States and abroad. In addition to her own work (whose clients include HBO, Disney, and Fuse), she is the editor of African Digital Art, an online forum featuring professional and emerging artists’ digital talent. Ayiba spoke with Barbara about her role in the transcontinental digital arts scene.
Q: Where are you from, and where do you currently reside? Tell us about your academic journey and some projects you are working on.
I’m originally from Nairobi, Kenya and lived there until I went for studies in the United States. I went to a small arts college in Denver, Colorado. Denver is a great city full of artists and great museums; it was a great place for inspiration and nurtured a strong love for experimentation in art, design, and music. Since then I’ve lived in a few more cities in the States including New York and Boston. I also had short stays in Bristol, London, Nairobi, and a few more cities. Now, I’m currently pursuing post-graduate studies in a multidisciplinary program in Visual Arts in Barcelona, Spain. I continue to work with a few clients doing web design and motion graphics. I also continue to do personal work mostly involving video and photography. More of my work is viewable at www.them2k.com and my personal work www.btwnspaces.com.
Q. How did you become interested in art, animation, and graphics?
It wasn’t hard to be interested in art, and further on in my career, motion design and animation. I took art throughout primary school and high school. In fact, I once dropped it to consider taking business, but I found myself back in the art room haunted by the prospect of endless memorization of terms versus lazy drawing afternoons. I would later learn that design was no lazy career, but being good at it and continuous encouragement kept me interested. Meeting people who were better than me kept me hungry, wanting to improve at my own skills.
Q. What are some of your most notable projects? What was your favourite project to work on?
I’ve worked on a few projects recently. I’ll name a few favourites. I worked as a media designer for a permanent installation that stands in North Eastern University in Boston. I’ve greatly enjoyed projects that have some kind of permanence to them or are installations for the public to see and interact with. I’ve done one other installation for the Encyclopedia of Life which was installed at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. I also worked as a visual designer for a touch screen game for LG. Other notable design work is the Buni TV website and the mobile site design, as well as the logo for African Digital Art.
Q. What is your affiliation with African Digital Art? How did you get involved with them?
I’m the editor for ADA. Jepchumba, who founded ADA, tracked me online through a blog I had at the time featuring designers and design work by artists in East Africa. We have similar interests in showcasing work done by African artists, so it’s been a great journey working together to realize this. Jepchumba is enthusiastic for her love for digital art in Africa and it rubbed off on me. On the site I showcase work that other professionals within the industry do and continue to seek artists who work creatively in Africa to share stories and also interview them on the site. I also love working offline where we get a chance to meet some of the artists we feature and attend industry events. We got to attend Design Indaba, a great design conference held in Cape Town, and also the advertising Loerie Awards in 2012.
Q. Where do you hope to take your career in the next five years?
In the next five years I’d like to work on more interactive installations both internationally and within Africa. I like the blend of technology and design and want to take part in more of that work. Having also recently started a small studio, I want to continue working collaboratively with many designers I admire within Africa, Europe, and the US. My clients are also a big source of inspiration and want to continue meeting incredible people who want great work realized.
Q. What is your relationship with Kenya? How has your culture or upbringing impacted/inspired your work?
Being born and raised in Kenya, it continues to be a huge part of me. My family and friends live there and though often I am away from home, I’m still very connected. My work however doesn’t often speak very loudly of an “African-ie” sense. Depending on the work, I try keep things very relevant to the true sense of Kenya. Other projects don’t always draw from cultural influences, but are inspired by other visual knowledge and language from other places in the world. I try to balance things out. Having been brought up in Nairobi, I believe I benefit most from having other influences to add to my Kenyan background and culture.
Q. What is your advice to young entrepreneurs who are afraid to follow their passion?
The risks and rewards in following your own passions are liberating and great, yet full of doubt. It takes a person with massive passion and responsibility to go this way. Do it if you can. Do it anyway. Not taking chances is as much risk as never trying to. One just pushes you forward no matter the failure. The other keeps you content.