Kenya Arts

Kenya Arts

Artistic awakening after the Second Liberation

Portrait of a woman by Fitsum Woldelibanos

Portrait of a woman by Fitsum Woldelibanos

Kenya’s capital Nairobi is a cosmopolitan city with a wide range of music, literature and visual arts, where world trends and regional and local developments often merge into something new. The end of the Moi era at the end of 2002, known as Second Liberation, had the effect of a liberation for the art scene; new cultural centers emerged like the GoDown Arts Center in South C and new museums like the RaMoMa for modern painting in Parklands. There is modern dance theater, and even pieces such as the vagina monologues, which are explicitly related to female sexual self-determination, can be performed without sanction (although there were already those under Moi).

National Museum of Kenya

National Museum of Kenya

Kenyan filmmakers – not least thanks to the support of Tom Tykwer – produce extraordinary films and documentaries on unusual subjects, such as the one about a lesbian love of young women, Rafik, or Soul Boy, Nairobi Half Life and Supa Modo, which are recognized worldwide.

Young artists like the Eritrean exile Fitsum Woldelibanos have enjoyed success in Kenya and exhibitions overseas; Established painters can suddenly make a living from their work. And trendy websites tell everyone who has access to the Internet what’s going on: young painters and sculptors present themselves on websites like ‘Kuonatrust’. KenyaBuzz promotes cinema and concerts. Kwani? makes young literature popular and has grown into an institution in cultural life with its readings and publications.

Live music, fashion shows, even classical concerts – the growing appetite for culture, not only among the educated youth, ensures successful events. Popular meeting places are still the hall of the Goethe-Institut, the neighboring domicile of the Alliance Fran├žaise called ” French Culture “, but also excursion destinations such as the National Museums of Kenya or the Karen Blixen House for object lessons in the colonial way of life find their audience .

Quite independent of the political times and fashions, as a major country in African continent according to printerhall, Kenya is rich in art and culture, not least thanks to its ethnic diversity. Numerous manifestations of Kenyan cultural life have found their way into the list of intangible world cultural heritage, including dances from Westerns or, in the east, the famous cultural sites, the Kayas with their unfortunately threatened rites and practices of the Mijikenda coastal residents.

Wanderer Between Worlds

Wanderer Between Worlds

Writers like Binyavanga Wainaina, the inventor of Kwani? have given a biting and original voice to an entire generation that is searching for their identity between village and city and abroad. Unfortunately, Wainaina died in Nairobi in 2019 at the age of 48 as a result of a stroke. In 2014, he was one of the first celebrities in his country to acknowledge their homosexuality. In doing so, he made himself a victim of hostility, since in Kenya, as in more than 30 other African countries, same-sex intercourse can be punished with massive penalties and homophobia is part of the populist behavior of some politicians and church representatives there.

The great old men of the literary business continue to publish: Meja Mwangi, who in the 1970’s already presented a classic of the critical social novel with “Going Down River Road” (unfortunately still up to date). Ngugi wa Thiong’o, victim of the regime who spent more than 20 years in exile and who wrote down an ironic general accounting for the years of dictatorship with ” Lord of the Crows “. Many consider his autobiographical works to be outstanding. Reading them is a way of getting to know the tragic pages of Kenyan history in authentic descriptions: the prison diary “Cold Put”, its “Dreams in Times of War”.

In the meantime, the crime genre has also discovered that Kenya offers plenty of material for thrillers, including wa Thiong’o’s son, Mukoma wa Ngugi with ” Nairobi Heat “. The protagonists of Richard Crompton’s crime novels come very close to social reality.

Unfortunately, some documentaries and historical treatises about Kenya read like detective stories, including Christopher Goffard’s ” You will see fire ” about the unexplained death of an American priest who is critical of the regime in Kenya, or even the autobiography of the former ambassador Smith Hampstone, “Rogue Ambassador,” which is banned in Kenya “, in German” The uncomfortable ambassador “. At first with the help of Western embassies, the life portrait of anti-corruption fighter John Githongo, which also looked like a crime thriller, was driven out by Michela Wrong because the booksellers * insidein Nairobi were initially unsure whether they could be punished for distribution. At least the daily newspaper Daily Nation dared a preprint, and today the “Now we’re off”, which is also available in German, has firmly established itself in the canon of what one should read about Kenya.