“Afri-Love is a feeling”: Lulu Kitololo Discusses Her Vision, Art and Life Unchained

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment. –Lulu Kitololo

Illustration by Lulu Kitololo

Lulu Kitololo is a self-defined “ideamonger,” using painting, graphic design, illustration, writing and workshops, to tell stories that honor the beauty in women, Africa, life and nature. Lulu is creator of the Afri-love blog, which explores the connections between creativity, self-love and growth for Africans and those inspired by the continent. The blog features commentary, interviews, resources and reviews on art and culture.

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Lulu moved to New York to earn a BFA in Communications Design from Pratt Institute. After working there as an advertising Art Director, she moved to the UK to pursue a Master’s in African Studies at the University of London.

Can you tell us about Afri-love?

Afri-love is a feeling. I remember being this really opinionated, patriotic kid, before I even really knew anything … about anything! When I left Kenya to pursue higher education in the US, I gained an even greater interest in where I came from. I was constantly meeting Africans, from all over the continent, and I observed that, diverse as our homelands were, there was so much we had in common. Especially, a love for the lands that were so much a part of us, no matter where we happened to be.

Design by Lulu Kitololo

Last year, I finally gave a name to that strong feeling and created an online space to express it, to share it with others and to collect all the expressions of it that I could find. I like to think of the website as a community for creativity and passion for Africans and all those who identify with or have an affinity for the continent.

Essentially, it’s a blog where you can find African and African-inspired art, design, literature and more. One of my favorite aspects is the interviews. I’ve had the opportunity to profile some amazing people who are living their passions and who are inspired by and devoted to Africa.

The vision of love you describe on Afri-Love is beautiful.  You say:

Imagine Africans who love who they are, as they are, and so love each other and the environment that nurtures them. Confident and assertive, they are engaged in charting their growth and celebrating success as defined on their own terms.

Imagine all who are inspirited by Africa – all whose lives and hearts have been touched by the spirit of the continent – sharing their passion through collaboration, in the name of mutual empowerment.

What compelled you to write this as you did?

I believe strongly that all development, change and growth begins with the self. That before we can truly care about another human being and the environment we live in, we have to care about ourselves. That’s when we realize – and not just because logic tells us so but, because we truly feel it to be so – that everything is connected. With that self-love comes confidence to be who we are, as we are, and to not let anybody compromise that. If everybody is coming from such a point of love and self-knowledge, I believe that then we can honestly all work together for the benefit of all.

You also mention:

Imagine all starting by looking inside themselves. Self-discovery, self-awareness, self-love and self-respect. And then true learning, understanding, love and respect of the other. Harnessing the power of emotion to influence great positive change.

Was there a particular moment or specific experiences that led you to come to this realization for yourself?

Having worked in the field of sustainable development, there was a lot of rhetoric about how to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. It was great to be creating design that wasn’t merely promoting consumption but instead asking people to envision how they could live better.

It made me ask myself a lot of questions. What would make me empathize with a stranger thousands of miles away? What would encourage me to take up more environmentally-friendly habits? How do I want to live?

I remember visiting a lovely older lady at the end of a project attempting to encourage greener and healthier habits in a low-income housing development. Over the past 18 months, she had moved from utter skepticism to thoroughly embracing a new way of life. Doing so had done wonders for her health and further more, for her spirit. There’s one thing she said that particularly stuck with me: “The more you do, the more you see to do.” That was one of the most touching moments I’ve had. She had welcomed us, strangers really, into her home and shared with us a very intimate part of her life. It reminded me that I have a significant contribution to make.

Ultimately, it came down to understanding and appreciating my own humanity. And feeling connected to something bigger – being a thread in this beautiful tapestry that is life.

I’ve always been an idealist. When I discovered just how many of us are out there, devoting our lives to creating the change we imagine, I felt less need to contain my passion. And I’m not there yet, it’s an ongoing journey – creating changes in my life so that I can move closer to the vision of how I want to live and the world I want to live in.

It excites me when people talk of love and emotion in situations where previously it would be considered irrational or weak. I think we have all experienced the power of emotion and love, perhaps in the personal/private sphere. I don’t know why we feel that it should live only there.

How did you become interested in art?

I’ve been making things since I was a child. I’m sure most artists say that! I don’t have siblings around my age so I had a lot of time and space to create activities to occupy myself. I can’t explain why the arts – it just felt good. My parents are creative too (though not in the conventional sense. In fact, they would probably even deny this) so I think it rubbed off on me subconsciously.

I think one of the things that makes art so powerful is the sense of wonder it can create. When an artist pours their soul into their work, the audience can see it and feel it. A piece of art can resonate with an emotion inside you; it can stir and move you. Art can move people to mourn, it can move people to fight and it can also move people to be joyous and to feel more themselves. Perhaps it is art’s ability to reflect and say something true about our humanity. To remind us of who we are.

Anything else you’d like to share?

The most simple, seemingly common sense thing, that I remind myself of over and over again is: if I don’t like the situation I’m in, I can change it. I have the power to do something, however small, to get closer to making the vision of how I want to live, a reality.

Just when I’ve about convinced myself that this is nonsense-talk, I remember all the big changes I’ve made in the past couple of years and just how content I am with where they’ve brought me. Where I’ve brought myself.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained is difficult but it is also the most rewarding thing there is. Difficult because the chains are everywhere. It’s so easy to lead a “normal” life where everything seems prearranged and there is no need to worry about disruptions to the schedule. But, I believe that our spirits yearn to live unchained! For me, living unchained is setting my passions free and following them where they will take me.

Lulu currently lives in Manchester, UK, collaborating with artists and fellow ideamongers around the world. She spends a lot of her time blogging for Afri-love and as Creative Director of Asilia, a creative agency that provides design and technology services with love. To get in touch, contact her here.

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