Njoki Ngumi's article in The Correspondent
Sunny Dolat and Jim Chuchu In Conversation

The Land as Witness

Kenya is widely known for its majestic landscapes and wildlife. These characteristics are a major tourist attraction, to the extent that Kenya troublingly fronts its landscapes and animals to the world more than it does its people. This dissonant inability of the State to value its people as much as its natural resources (and even then, only as a source of income) bears some colonial hangovers, and exhibits itself in the fact that Kenya’s athletes—famous in the sporting world—receive more support from commercial sports giants and nations than they do from their own country, leading to defections and emigration.

Soil-Map-of-Kenya-1980Exploratory Soil Map of Kenya by Sombroek, W.G., Pauw, B.J.A. van der; Source: Republic of Kenya. Ministry of Agriculture Kenya Soil Survey, Nairobi. Appendix 1 to Report no. E1. Source: esdac.jrc.ec.europa.eu

However, there is a more macabre history involving the Kenyan landscape. Kenya has a history of political assassinations and murders that have deeply shocked the public. Most of these incidents remain unsolved, with only persistent rumour and conjecture serving as the unspoken record of what really happened in these instances and, related to this project, many of the bodies of victims of these murders have been dumped in this same landscape; a vista of open plains and lush forests that also, gruesomely, serve as a perfect backdrop for getting rid of bodies without witness.

One arm of this project considers this history of murder, and aims to use natural textile design techniques (eco-dyeing, timed reactions etc.) to create textiles that bear witness to a physical interaction with these historic sites. We consider this a kind of design that speaks to the darker nature of history and heritage, and hope that the results re-ignite these memories that the state has worked hard to suppress by fear and intimidation.


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