Brushes and Boards: Unveiling the Dual World of Susan Gakure
Imagine a talented project manager at a dynamic tech company harbouring a hidden passion for art. It reads like a plot straight out of a Hollywood script, yet this is the captivating story of Susan Gakure, Project Manager, Business Value Realization at Interswitch Kenya.
For years, she has concealed her artistic side, battling the fear of criticism. But, as fate would have it, Susan's art has a way of reeling her back in just when she believes she's stashed it away for good. Now, she's embarking on an exhilarating journey to showcase her creative work.
In this article, we explore how she deftly navigates her career alongside her artistic passions, and how a serendipitous encounter reignited her love for painting.
How will you describe yourself in three words?
Creative, Passionate and Shy
That's quite intriguing. While your creativity and passion are a given, the shy aspect of your personality stands out. Do you think that this part of your character influences your work, either in a positive or negative way?
So, at Interswitch, initially when I decided to work in project management, I wondered whether I would be able to do it because it involved talking to people and having stakeholder engagements. However, this job has really taken me out of my shell as it a vital part of the role involves interacting with people. I wouldn’t say my shyness has affected my job, my job in fact has been the solution to my shyness.
Regarding my art, I hardly ever show it to anyone. I often fear criticism, I feel like this is where my shyness really comes out.
Do you see yourself showcasing your art in future?
A colleague of mine actually asked me to exhibit some of my art around the office, put it up and encourage people to have discussions about it. This would be the first time I will be showcasing my art in one place. I am looking forward to it.
How has your background in project management influenced your art or vice-versa?
Four months ago, I had to deliver two very specific difficult pieces under a limited time. In order to manage my time, I constantly engaged the client and carried them along to ensure it meets their expectations. I am not certain if I can say it is a direct influence from Project management, but I can say it has changed how I deliver my paintings.
I joined the Switch in 2018, because Interswitch Kenya was getting into the digital financial payment space actively, I wanted to be part of that innovation, to be part of a group that thinks outside the box. I believe this is linked to my creativity. With my art, I like trying new things, whether it is drawings, or going to new places to draw new sources of inspiration; so, I guess my art has inspired my career in that way.
Tell us a bit more about your journey into the switch, what has your career journey been like since you joined?
Before I joined the switch, I was working in data analysis, but I needed something to challenge my way of thinking. I started to feel redundant because the job became monotonous. I wanted something new and exciting. Initially, I had wanted to go into marketing, but then the opportunity to come to the switch and do project management for innovative digital services opened up and I jumped for it.
When I came on board, Kenya had just introduced the payments gateway, autopay was also ongoing at the time, and we partnered with International Bank of Somalia to launch their mobile app bank application. So, I was working on those three projects and it was one of the most exciting times and there was room to give ideas and to provide service. In summary, it has been exactly what I was looking for.
Could you describe your artistic style and what inspires your artwork? Are there any reoccurring themes or subjects that you find yourself drawn to?
I love abstract art because it gives me the freedom to experiment on different methods, whether it’s a paint splatter, using shells or newspaper clippings, there is no limit to the creativity. I also sometimes dabble in figurative art.
Could you elaborate on the specific moments or, you know, experiences that reignited your artistic spark.
I attended the United Nations Black History Month, where artists were having a showcase. I was there to see a band that was playing but the art took over. I was drawn to the different methods the artists used to express themselves. I was also intrigued by the conversations I overheard; how the art made people interact with each other. I got massive inspiration from that. So, I went to a stationary shop, bought canvas, paint and other materials I needed and then I started. I started scared for sure, I was not confident, in fact, I ended up hiding the art I created in that period.
About a year or two later, a friend of mine took me to an art show down, where artists do live paintings and you can interact with them. I watched a well-renowned artist paint. When he was done, we had a conversation and I told him about the black history month painting and how I had put it away. He asked me to bring the painting and told me It’s only normal to be my worst critic, but I must trust in myself and my art, and that art is about who views it not necessarily who does it. He gave me more advice regarding techniques, materials and generally not taking criticism to art. That was a defining moment for me.
Did you end up taking the art to him?
Oh yes, I did. I went back, took it out of the big black trash bag I had put it in and gave it to him. He ended up liking it, in fact he bought it. Well, his assistant handled the transaction so I’m not entirely sure who took it home, but that encouragement was valuable to me.
How do you balance your professional life with art? Do you have any advice for anyone seeking to strike this balance?
I like to do my art in one sitting and that takes about 4-6 hours, so I leave my paintings for the weekends and when I’m on leave. This allows me focus on my art because if I try to do it with work, I’ll most likely be distracted then give up on it.
My advice would to anyone seeking this balance would be plan. Plan it best on how you know you work. I strongly believe in the saying “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar”, give your employer your full working hours and then do what you need to do for yourself. If you don’t schedule, one aspect of your life will suffer.
How do you ensure that your creativity is not limited if you have to schedule the time that you can tend to your art?
I would say for one, you need to have people that motivate you and inspire your creativity. My husband is my biggest fan, he’ll tell me “You haven't painted in such a long while. When are you doing your next painting?”. He keeps me accountable.
What are your aspirations both in your professional career and in your artistic journey? Are there any specific achievements or milestones that your hope to reach?
I would love to publicise my art more. There’s the showcase in the office which I plan to do before the end of the year. I am also considering showcasing at my church as they are currently planning exhibitions for local artists.
In my career, I would love to mentor project managers specifically in relationship management. I find that there is a lot of conflict when it comes to individuals working together. If you don't understand the different personalities in your team or learn how to work with them, it becomes difficult to deliver your output. I constantly try to encourage people to engage with each other more freely or openly and to go beyond your scope to ensure all parts of the project are executed effectively. I would love to do this more professionally.
In terms of my own personal growth, I would love to be more involved in digital payments and go deeper into innovation at the switch.
Beyond your work and art, can you share some of your other interest or hobbies?
I love swimming, I always make sure I swim three times a week after work. Again, with this I schedule. I make sure I leave work at 5pm on the days I want to swim then I swim from 6pm-7pm.
What advice would you give to people who might be considering pursuing their creative passions alongside their professional roles?
The first thing I would say is you will always have excuses, so if it is important to you, put your mind to it and start, however small, just start.