Sunny Dolat is a Kenyan fashion stylist, creative director and production designer. In 2012, he co-founded Nairobi based arts collective, The Nest, including filmmakers, writers, artists and designers. For their first project, the group travelled around Kenya to interview over 250 people who identify as queer. The result was the critically-acclaimed feature film Stories of Our Lives, as well as a book of the same name. On the grounds that it ‘promotes homosexuality, which is contrary to national norms and values’ of Kenya the film was banned there but screened in over 80 countries worldwide and won numerous awards. The Nest Collective continues to create works in film, music, fashion, visual arts and literature – exploring and encouraging dialogue on the theme of identity.
Ahead of Dolat’s main stage talk at WDCD Live Amsterdam on May 24th we caught up with him for a quick Q&A.
How did The Nest Collective come about?
‘We started The Nest in 2012 as a gathering place for young and emerging creators who were interested in the intersections between poetry and feminism and queer theory and design and technology – and there wasn’t much room for that at the time in Kenya. For two years, we ran a program of events, screenings, gatherings and cross-discipline collaborations with artists based in the city as well as outside. We began to think about our own practice and decided to become cultural producers, beyond convening. Starting with the queer archive project, ‘Stories of Our Lives’, we evolved into The Nest Collective, an army of thinkers, believers and makers.’
What are you aiming at with the collective? What are the organisation’s main activities?
‘With all our work, there’s always a root question, a ‘what if?’ or a ‘why does?’, constantly questioning and imagining our past, present and future of our black, African identity and the intersections of that with feminism, race and sexuality. We hop between genres, which allows us to explore different things from different angles and reach different audiences.’
How is the cultural climate in Nairobi/Kenya?
‘There’s been a bit of a cultural renaissance in Kenya over the last couple of years, with a significant increase in the number of creative industry outputs and practitioners. This has piqued public and state interest in the sector, resulting in a mainstreaming of the industry, and catalyzed policy reforms for a more enabling environment.’
What challenges do you face in your work?
‘Because we work as a collective, everyone’s thoughts and ideas always feed into all our work. Sometimes this means extended debates over storylines or characters, but this constant internal negotiation and debate pushes our work to be more nuanced. Collective authorship has been a challenge to explain, because people are much more used to the idea of giving credit to individuals. This has meant we have to spend a lot of time explaining the logistics of collective authorship.’
What has been your most important work to date and what is still on your wishlist?
‘Perhaps ‘important’ isn’t a fair word because it suggests that everything since hasn’t been as meaningful as that particular one. However, Stories of Our Lives was a turning point for us. Yes, the film did incredibly well, we won awards and we became visible globally in a way we hadn’t been before, but internally, it showed us that we could make a thing together, and how to stay together when outside forces galvanized against us. Stories of Our Lives made us a family. We’re always excited to try out new mediums and to deepen our practice in some of the mediums we already use.’
Top image: Not African Enough—A Fashion Book by The Nest Collective (2017)