The Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (Ticah) embarked on a rare and risky experiment this past week when they brought together more than a score of artists and professionals to Goethe Institute and asked them to think about reality. Or more specifically, disruptive realities.
If they were provided with whatever materials they required, could they create, perform, or build something (be it an installation, poem, or performance) that reflected their views on ‘disruptive realities’?
Counting on the imagination of all the participants they had invited to be part of this week-long project, Ticah coordinators Eric Manya and Suzanne Mieko also had given serious thought as to who they’d invite.
Their concern was for diversity in age, profession, and gender. That led to their calling everyone from sculptors, painters, puppeteers, and architects to fashion designers, traditional flautists, digital artists, and even one quantitative surveyor.
“We’ve been running week-long rika residencies for quite some time,” Manya told the BDLife. “But this time, we wanted to cut across artificial barriers between art and professionalism.”
Rising to the occasion, all the participants got together to deliberate, come up with concepts, and get to work creating mainly installations that were often collaborative constructs.
For instance, fashion designer Akoth Otieno told BDLife she wanted to contrast the soft and sensual features of her designs with something rough and hard.
That led to her obtaining a mannequin which she covered with an elegant crocheted top and a spikey chicken wire ‘skirt’.
She collaborated with fellow fashion designer John Kaveke in designing the full-length chicken wire skirt.
The spikey skirt was also meant to ensure a woman’s safety.
Interestingly enough, Akoth wasn’t the only woman in the project to consider safety.
Sculptor Maggie Otieno created a giant totem out of newspaper strips which also contained a secret ‘safe space’ where women could flee if need be.
Architect Linda Kinoti went further to create a safe haven made out of bamboo and heavy tetra-pak paper, the kind that once contained the Nyayo milk school children got during the Moi era.
“While someone was reflecting on their youth, they’d climb inside Kinoti’s shelter, and find the interior covered with mirrors,” Manya explained.
“The mirrors are there so someone can reflect on themselves,” he added. Kinoti was assisted in the shelter’s construction by artist Solomon Luvai and ‘Bamboo Man’ Daniel Otieno.
In his other life, Daniel is the quantitative surveyor who finds bamboo while on the job.
During the Ticah project, he fashioned bamboo suits, two of which were hung last week at Goethe. Others he showed during the recent Kibra Fashion Week.
There were also writers, thespians, and storytellers in the Ticah mix who produced something called a ‘Zine’.
“Zine is short for magazine,” explained Suzanne Mieko as she showed me the ‘zine tree’ and added that the three women who’d produced a zine were Wangari the Storyteller who performed at the opening of the ‘Disruptive Realities’ showcase, Caroline Odongo, who’d performed at Goethe in an awesome play reading of the script Ruined, and poetess Lutivini Majanja.
They were assisted in fastening their zines to the fish wire by contemporary dancer Adam Chienjo, who also ensured the zines hung properly.
Then, it was the digital artist Akili Huru who added beautiful colours to the covers of their zines, making them one of the most collaborative installations of all.
The bigger one was the Shrine which was part of the project drawn in charcoal by Solo.
The contrast was between Common the cool easy-going rapper on one side of the Goethe stage and Fela Kuti the fiery revolutionary rapper who had built his own shrine before he died.
The artists’ shrine was assembled as Akili Huru called everyone in the project to bring a special something to put into the room behind Fela’s portrait.
Then on opening night, the public was invited to this combustible mystery Shrine into which everyone swarmed, irrespective of the ‘danger’ being conjured up by Akili and another collaborator, Anto Neosoul.
One who didn’t get wrapped up in the Shrine was Mutua Matheka who’d addressed the contrast (or ‘disruptive reality’) between film and still photography.
He did it by taking over a thousand shots of dancer Collins Brian (who also performed on opening night), after which he assembled them in a blurred but beautiful fashion and fixed them inside a box resembling an early version of a camera.
In all, the installations mirroring ‘disruptive realities’ were surprisingly ingenious and fun.