African Maximalism

It’s a pity we only exist in the future

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A show about Art in Public Space and the Public Sphere.

If you understand Art as the imaginative representation of the world, then it is not only an integral part of everyday life, but can also be seen as a barometer of intellectual freedom. Art in the public sphere, the performing of cultural expressions in public, is a further distillation of this and a critical indicator of a culturally healthy society.

Nairobi, a vibrant city and a leading African metropolis, pulsates with a wealth of new forms of cultural expression, many of which exist beyond the frontiers of conventional institutions. The idea behind ‘It’s a pity that we only exist in the future’ was to explore the city’s terrain with the aim of representing these fascinating phenomena within the context of a discourse about public space.

This was by all means not an exhaustive show, but rather a sample of the city’s cultural nuggets, tracing a seam of art forms existing within different social, cultural and geographical groups throughout the city.

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The Masai Mbili art collective from Kibera featured prominently in the show. Solo 7, who during the post-election violence last year painted peace slogans throughout Kibera exhibited documentation of some of these, together with some original works. Gomba showed documentation of the performative work ‘Mai self portrait’, where he obscures his identity with large wire-mesh glasses and interacts with members of the public. The collective as a whole were represented by a T-shirt mobile with messages and slogans referencing space, publicness and security. Funds raised by the T shirt sales will be used to purchase the collective’s studio space in Kibera.

Moving from Kibera to town, Hapa TV, who place a broad range of content in matatus screened one of their showreels and Biki Kangwana and Jacob Wachira showed a video

of their jointly-conceived performance in public space ‘The Moth’ in which Jacob dressed up as moth, went onto the streets and listened to the people’s grievances. The Nyayo Monument Photographers, some of whom have been taking people’s portraits by the Nyayo Monument for the last 20 years were also featured through the collection of Samson, and a photomontage of the photographers at work.

To the Eastlands where Slum TV, who document life in and around Mathare, showed a taster of their latest showreel, ‘The Superlatives’, about the biggest, best, baddest, fastest and smartest in Mathare. Lukas Pusch, who in 2006 donned a white tuxedo and performed the rich white man in Africa, exhibited the video of his work, Vienna Voodoo.

Ukoo Flani and Cultural Video Foundation initiated a collaboration in June 2008 as part of the Urban Wasanii workshop in Mombasa. They developed a song about Maskani, the public spaces in Mombasa, a music video and a documentary about the project. The music video and a trailer for the documentary were screened, both inside and outside the building and Ukoo Flani performed at the opening. A slideshow of the other work from the Urban Wasanii project, facilitated by Kuona Trust was also on show.

The opening itself was representative of the ethos of the whole show, bringing together actors from different plays, and placing them all on one stage. From ambassadors to rappers, from citizen journalists, to local photographers, from Nairobians of the Westlands to Nairobians of the Eastlands, it was a cocktail, but not a bomb. Dj’s Ugomatic from Nairobi and Andi Teichmann from Berlin spun tunes that rocked them all.

So maybe we were actually wrong. Maybe we do not only exist in the future, but we also exist in the present, it’s just a question of knowing how to see ourselves. And that is one of the things that African Maximalism is trying to do. We try to make things visible, we try to connect loose synapses within the city, the country, the continent, and re-establish broken circuits. We create situations, we dream of being catalysts.

But who is African Maximalism? Maybe you are. African Maximalism is as an open source movement, inclusive to all that want to learn the language. It’s about the freedom of producing innovative work, without the burden of being an individual. We are a movement with no leader, an idea with no manifesto, an aesthetic with no rules. Come and join us.

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