The Down River Road (DRR) team found the perfect space in Goethe Institute’s mini auditorium for the presentation of its intense multimedia installation entitled Amplitude of Dawn.
Installations can often be so abstract and filled with symbols whose significance is so personal and obtuse that they frequently fail to impress.
Not so with this show which aims to take its audience on an audible journey through time and space, starting with the radio announcement made on August 1, 1982, that the government had been seized, and essentially toppled by a group of soldiers who had gone rogue.
Their intent was to create a coup d’etat and take over a corrupt regime that had caused so much poverty and pain to the Kenyan people.
But from there, the story doesn’t proceed with one person telling the tale of what Kenyans endured in the aftermath of the attempted coup.
Instead, the DRR team use a variety of media to create an immersive experience that is primarily audible, which is how the title starts to make sense.
The term ‘amplitude’ references sound and there are so many types of sounds utilised in this showcase of audible noise that it requires lots of listening to feel the trouble and terrible tragedy of what Kenyans felt at the time.
The curators of this exhibition installation employ all sorts of sounds to take you back in time. According to the text stencilled on the first wall you encounter, the sounds you will hear include everything from praise songs, patriotic slogans, prayers, sung poetry and field recordings to wails, whispers, ritual chants, DJ sets, and nursery rhymes to oral memories, advertisements, anthems, and the sound of silence.
There are earphones set on benches around the room to help create the soundscapes meant to give one a better sense of the context, which was that period in time that is rarely discussed among generations since it was an unholy phenomenon that most people would prefer to forget.
Yet, the curators of this show clearly feel that Kenyans, still unborn during that time may never know what really happened when the soldiers gave some people a sense of hope for a brief moment, up until the coup was crushed by a man who must have demanded his men obliterate the coup attempt with a hard-hitting sledgehammer. And that happened without regard for the innocent or the collateral damage caused.
In addition to all those sounds, there are artworks that capture more of the five senses. Cyrus Kabiru and Onyis Martin were both brought into the show’s equation by connecting the audio with the visual.
Cyrus reinforces the role of the radio, which in the 80s, the days before the internet and phones, allowed for instantaneous information regarding what’s happening right now. Back in those days, people were glued to their radios, hungry to know what was happening and fearful that the troops, aiming to put down the coup, might break down their doors.
That happened often during that brutal time of counter-attack, when the police behaved with impunity, the same ruthless impunity that terrorises so many, both then and even now.
And as the curators wrote in messages stencilled on the walls to clarify the meaning and essence of the sounds, people all around Eastlands estates were scared of what might befall them next.
The numbers are also there to rouse awareness of just how bad it was, how many got arrested, jailed in Nyayo House’s basement, and how many died.
But as dark as this exhibition sounds, it was uplifted both by the art, including the collage paintings of Onyis Martin and the ‘junk art’ radios hand-made by Cyrus, the man best known for his recycled wire C-specks that, in this show, serve to show how we too can rebuild our country from the ruin created in the past after the coup was crushed and all hope was lost.
It would seem that the show’s title, which includes the word ‘dawn,’ also suggests a new day is coming. The time is now as these ingenious curators imply, not just with the sounds they have assembled and the art they have included, but even the sitting room looking so comfy, cozy and just like those some of us lived in at that period of time.
This multimedia odyssey requires just one thing to achieve success. It’s that individuals must sit and listen. Not always the easiest thing to do.