For the perspective of an artist who is coming from a background of painting, but moving into performance, read Ato Malinda’s comment here. Below is a brief excerpt.
‘If public exhibitions are not to be thought of as public space then this is the first time that I have worked in overtly public space. The experience is ever changing and I, in turn, have become a hyper absorbtive agent.’..
As with any workshop with different artists from different backgrounds there is a spectrum of engagement with the issues surrounding public art. Below is an excerpt from Michelle Browne’s musings. Read the full comment here
Since we began the workshop I have wondered about my role here. What place do I have as a ‘mzungu’ coming to make art in Kenya? Walking through Barsheba I wondered how art fits into this place? What is public space to this community? I was conscious of not wanted to come to fix anything, to do something related to social/aid work. But then what do this community need? What kind of public art should be made there?
1450hrs, Tuesday, June 24th.
Somewhere on the Southern Mainland
Finally, a cold beer. It is not as cold as I like it, though; not cold enough that, as we say in Nairobi, it is ‘sweating’. When a beer is ‘sweating’, lines of water form on the bottle and cascade down it the moment you pull it out of the fridge. But most importantly, the label, when you pull at it, doesn’t tear but peels off with such ease it brings succour to the sexually deprived and closure to the anally retentive. I am not quite sure which of those it is that I am, but what I know is that a beer at that temperature sure does work miracles for me.
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As a writer, I cut my teeth on the internet a space where as far as writing goes, the dabbler meets the hobbyist and the MFA backed craftsmanship meets raw talent. The internet: a veritable patch pourri of style and form; a babel of trained and untrained voices; a cacophony of the phony know-it-alls outshouting of the too-smart-for-TV pundits; the only place in the wide world where genius shares both a podium and accolades with mediocrity.
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Although the Wasanii International Artists Workshop is an established event by now, this year (the 6th to run) has two key differences. Firstly, it is focussed specifically on artworks which relate to public space. Secondly, it is interdisciplinary. Ukoo flani, a hip hop collective from Mombasa form a key part of the workshop. In collaboration with Cultural Video Foundation they are composing a new song and making a music video about ‘Maskani’, a form of public space intrinsic to Mombasa.
Whilst in Nairobi maskani means basically ‘neighbourhood’ in Mombasa it describes the public street space where you will meet with your friends to hang out; your corner on the block. When this emerged in discussions between Ukoo Flani and CVF they decided to write a song about what the maskani means to the Ukoo Flani members. On Friday night I visited them in the studio to witness the song’s production. It was a very fun experience.
We entered the studio by an unmarked door on Moi Avenue. There was not a single light on the three flights of stairs leading up the recording area, but we did meet a couple of voices in the dark checking that we were friends. When we arrived at the top of this Jacob’s ladder we were greeted by a highly industrious atmosphere. Signs on the walls discouraged idleness and there was a palpable sense of concentration amongst the Ukoo Flani family. Thats not to say they weren’t having a laugh; there was some powerful liquor doing the rounds, but everyone had written out their own lyrics and were wondering back and forth rapping quietly to themselves.
I popped my head into the small recording booth and then continued up to the rooftop. Here, more members were quietly pacing around, rapping their new rhymes to themselves. The recently full moon was now waning but still cast an ethereal glow over downtown Mombasa. I chatted a bit with Vincenzo and Sylvia from Cultural Video Foundation and we speculated about the nature of the public space discourse and how it generally seems to stay within ‘academic’ circles. Nevertheless it is obviously an issue which affects all of us.
As Vincenzo said the other day, if you never inhabit a public space with people who are from a different socio-economic background from you then they will forever remain a symbol, and never become an individual. So if rich and poor never actually come into direct contact with one another, as you might speculate is the case in a city like Nairobi, a city of automobiles forever ferrying human cargo through the city space, then that has a potentially huge impact on the cohesion of that society…
Anyway, I’m digressing a bit, as what I wanted to say was that here, in Mombasa in a small studio on a Friday night, non-academics (Ukoo Flani) were writing lyrics about what public space means to them. It seemed really significant to have this input from normal people talking about everyday experience rather than from academics. We will post the lyrics as soon as we can.
What was intended as a short visit ended up as a bit of an all-nighter. Even ‘tho Ukoo Flani are efficient with the studio time, song production still takes a while. Each member is recorded separately and then the producer assembles them all in a master track. It was a real education watching the song build layer by layer as each Ukoo Flani member added their personal touch. By 5 in the morning we were done, and after the only taxi journey I’ve had in Kenya where the driver is actually getting high whilst we were driving, we got home and I crashed into bed. More soon.
The eventful early months this year, got me thinking a lot about the history and state of the Kenyan nation. In moments of cynicism, and they have been a dime a dozen, I have even argued that a nation called Kenya has existed only in name and never in the shared ideals of its people. At one point, in my weekly online column at KenyaImagine, I wrote:
“Let there be Kenya,” said Queen Victoria. And there was Kenya.
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