Conversations in Silence

Instead of a trip to the doctor with SSS on February the 18th , we went to…. Goethe Institut in the evening for the opening of ‘Conversations in Silence‘… There were 3 partnerships and a single artist’s work…

From the original program, it had been anticipated that Miriam Syowia Kyambi would be part of the project, which was essentially a Bauhaus University alumni (B)/Kenyan artists (K) one, but that was evidently not the case on our arrival. Why that is, we know not. This project was intended to explore the nature, extent, influence on, types of, and means of commemorating Kenya’s collective memory. This post aims to say a little of my impressions of the exhibition. I went to the opening as well as two more times; with SSS and then E so I hope I present a, shall we say, rounded view to the nature of the exhibition.

Karolina Freino (B) & James Muriuki (K) presented 3 separate pieces; 2 of which are related (at least to me…) In one, a video, Muriuki interviews a lady called Peninna who sells potatoes at Nairobi’s Toi Market (I have always wondered why it’s called that but…not to digress) as she postulates on the role of women in providing support for their children, the reduced role of men in the same and why some jobs are still ‘women’s jobs’. Market women all over Africa are exposed, informed, and opinionated. This one does not disappoint & makes for interesting viewing.

In another of the works of Freino & Muriuki; they placed piles of potatoes, monuments to trade in a manner of speaking, near various monuments around the city of Nairobi. The contrast is striking, making one view both the potatoes and monuments in a new light… The contrast between the Nyayo Monument at Nairobi’s Central Park and the pile was most engaging for me; this is a monument built to commemorate the reign of a man during whose time in office Kenya was brought to its knees and there next to it was an enduring testament to the desire of all Kenyans to improve their lot. Substitute those potatoes for cassavas, cabbages, coconuts and so on and you have the story of a country striving, sometimes against the establishment. SSS was especially enthused by a photo that the pair had taken atop a building with the sun, bright, in the background. I was happy to see her enjoying herself. It was her first time at an opening and at the encouragement of our new friend Gnash, she spoke to Muriuki about the possibility of a print. What delights one gets with friends!

The last of their works is ‘How are you?’, a recording of the chant one often hears directed at white people in the slums of Nairobi. They provide a ring tone at that they hope will set off conversations and lead us to ask questions regarding the role of the Westerner, aid, the NGO world, dependence. If I had not gone to Mathare with my German friend J (read about it HERE), I would have found it quite hilarious, this piece. Walking in Mathare with J, though, I heard children repeatedly chant those very words in our direction. The fact that at some point we were walking through the slum carrying some wood as we set off to build a fence only reinforced his role in their minds: Do-gooder. Almost 50 years after independence, we have such a long way to go….

Deqa Abshir (K) & Drusica Drazic (B) worked on 2 items: ‘The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ as well as a pillar in Kibera. I looooved the coat. The idea behind it is the memories of Somali refugees in Kenya and it has images from their time in their country of birth on it. Each of the people photographed in the coat give it distinct character. At the opening, Deqa offered the people present an opportunity to get into the coat and be photographed. My excitement at the chance (I had been asking X if the possibility of wearing the coat, right there on a mannequin, existed) led me to clap before her statement was over. Which would have been embarrassing if I had the capacity for shame. SSS & I got photographed so when you go for the exhibition, look out for the shots from the opening… the shameless-looking girl? That’s me 🙂 At least you know I’m a girl, ha ha.

Their other work was a concrete pillar they put up in Kibera (inarguably every Mzungu’s favourite slum in Kenya) as a means of commemoration which they hope will grow into something larger and even more significant. Images from its planning and construction were put up. I generally do not find installations accessible so, in classic fashion, I glossed over the thrust of the pillar. Better people shall yet come after me and appreciate that pillar. I hope.

Sam Hopkins (B) & Kevin Irungu (K) had 2 related pieces and they collaborated with a man named Ashif to actualise them. Their work, called ‘Ochuo’s Funeral’, is related to a funeral of a Kibera resident that caused quite a stir in the slum & its environs. Half of their work is a video of a re-enactment of the funeral and other half is a series of interviews with various people (all men, I noticed) who were, in one way or another, part of the planning & execution of the funeral. If any piece of work spoke to memory & the perceptions of people in this exhibition; it was, for me, this one. Every single one of these men remembered some version of the event that was a bit different from other people’s. And enjoyable, more especially if you understand street Kiswahili. This exhibition was being curated-originally-by both Sam Hopkins & Potash (Matathia Charles Anthony) but Potash pulled out due to ethical issues related to ‘Ochuo’s Funeral’. What they are, I wonder. Granted, I put that down on the comment book on the 28th but I want to ask it gain on this forum…. Potash, fungua roho yako!

Finally, Irene Izquierdo’s work. She made a foray into Hilton Square and met some very intriguing characters…some of whom were on hand to entertain on the day of the opening. There is also a video of the people who sit there speaking of their experiences that is peppered with various performances. I’m going to say this; because it’s my blog. I have never in my 20-plus years of living in Nairobi, seen that much entertainment at Hilton Square. Either all those artists are sitting on their talent waiting to be discovered as we walk past or that was an act for the Mzungu. This is a very un-PC thing to say but my sponsors asked me to be honest. One could feel the Mzungu interference with the accounts of Ochuo’s funeral but it was not as marked as with the Hilton Square work. There is an accompanying book that one would do well to read…if only for some insight.

On the whole, an interesting exhibition worth a go-see. The opening was lots of fun; what with X there, our friend LFGrad taking photos and meeting Gnome as SSS was introduced to the wonderful world of art, and openings at that. As well as so many of The Usual Suspects being as fun as they always are 🙂 X and I have been on a roller-coaster of late; I’m afraid what we have is in a precarious position but going for the opening gave us a chance to be together without the tension that has characterised our interactions of late. Thank you, art world.

As Wednesday from ‘The Addams Family’ just said on TV (we are all watching Boomerang); many thanks and much love. I’ll be back soon 🙂 END(1st Mar 2011)


2 thoughts on “Conversations in Silence

  1. hardcorekancil says:

    I didn’t know you were there as well. I missed the opening but did go to see what it was all about. Installations are not quite my thing either…especially not with the whole ‘I did an art project in Kibera’ kind of vibe! Oh well…

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