The face of Nairobi in 2299 manifests on dystopic wearable art and installations
Friday April 21 2023
McMillan Library has been open all this past month for the newly established Nairobi Space Station to display the multi-facets of its members’ research into ‘Nomadic Futures’.
An extension of the Lamu Space Station, the Nairobi Station officially closed last Saturday with an immersive experience that included art installations as well as wearable art, all of which were aimed at imagining Nairobi’s future in 2299.
Considering how the city will look in the future has led a group of young Kenyans to think deeply about what is to be done about Nairobi, whether it becomes a utopia or a dystopia.
“We sent a call out on Instagram inviting artists, designers, and scientists to apply for a three-month project to develop concepts related to restoring Nairobi’s environment,” explains one of the Lamu Space Station founders, Ajax Axe.
Other founder members are Abdul Rop and Lincoln Mwangi, both from Brush tu Artists Collective.
“We were looking for creative visionaries based in Nairobi,” she adds. “We wanted them to consider the environmental possibilities of the city in 2299.”
Could these creative visionaries conceive of a future in Nairobi in which the city is reforested, the rivers cleansed of all the filthy pollution, and Nairobi urbanites living their best lives?
Or will a dystopia of water and air pollution and deforested wastelands confirm that nobody bothered to heed the calls to change their ways in 2023?
As it turned out, the call out received an overwhelming response, largely from millennials. But only eight presented their installations and wearable art on Saturday.
Three of the eight installations that have been there all month greet you even before you enter the Library.
The most striking are the four banners (made from six metres of cardboard boxes, recycled and hung from the top of McMillan’s majestic entryway by the Mathare-based artist Daniel Nuru.
Also known as the Archbishop of the Kanairo diocese, Nuru is part of Mathare’s green movement which is where he met Ajax back in 2019.
“Daniel painted four of the most problematic environmental issues facing Nairobi [Kanairo in Sheng] right now,” says Ajax who also works closely with Mathare’s Social Justice Centre.
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The second installation, by Lincoln Mwangi, is a giant pod made from recycled aluminium lids of oil containers (which look like oversized sufurias), filled with mirrors and a seat where one can contemplate ‘Nomadic futures’, starting with one’s self and how they can clean up their own act.
And the third is Abdul’s solar panel, which he wears on his backpack. Also in the pack is a power bank enabling him to create his own portable energy system.
“It’s clean energy and it allows me to power all my devices,” Abdul explains.
Meanwhile, inside the Library, the most stunning display is a cabinet filled with glass jars, each containing polluted water from every rivulet of the Nairobi River.
“The most polluted is the one at Riverside Drive,” says Ajax. It’s black with contaminants analysed by the one environmental scientist in the group, Wilson Chege, who, like the others, wears a remarkable backpack designed especially for life as a nomadic futurist.
“My backpack contains a portable water treatment system,” Chege tells the BDLife.
“The upper glass chamber is where I treat the river water using cactus juice to remove contaminants. Then there’s a tube that takes the clean water down to the lower chamber,” he adds.
This ingenious plan is powered by the wind which gets activated by a refurbished umbrella that Chege sets atop the backpack to catch the wind.
It may sound impossible but Chege aims to live in a future utopia. “That can only happen if people are watchful of nature’s resources and address the environmental problems that we now face,” he adds.
Then there is Angelia Cauri, a trained architect whose interest in art, technology, and design led her to work in Virtual Reality.
But then, she was drawn to the concept of Nomadic Futures. She refurbished an old gas mask, working with artisans from Kariakor.
Other members of the team include Wanjera Kinyua, a storyteller dressed to resemble a colourful toxic butterfly which she says rose to protect the trees from human beings, and Husna Nyathira who created a children’s playground at Wajukuu in Mukuru slum.
Finally, there is Stoneface Pombaa (aka Brian Otieno) who’s a walking tree forest, intent on reforesting Mathare where he’s from.
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Most futurists are hopeful, but dubious, as Abdul says, “A utopia is unlikely, but we can work for it nonetheless.”