Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Research Findings: From Theatre Royal to Pop-up Galleries - Timeline of Art Venues in Nairobi by Olivier Marcel

Maybe one day Nairobi will be laid out with tarred roads, with avenues of flowering trees, flanked by noble spaces and stately squares; a cathedral worthy of faith and country, museums and galleries of art, theatres and public offices. - Dutton Eric in Kenya Mountain, 1929
In Volume XI n° 3 – 2013 of Mambo! [IFRA Publication] Olivier Marcel takes a closer look at art venues in Nairobi from 1910 to present day. Then, he goes ahead to give a visual representation/mapping of art venues vis a vis key political events in Kenya and East Africa.
In his finding Oliver posits that most of the art venues and institutions in Nairobi lack institutional memory.
An astonishing example is the fifty year old Goethe-Institut, which has virtually nothing but testimonies to account for the activity that preceded the arrival of the current director in 2007. Additionally, when a venue shuts down, as did Wahome Mutahi’s popular Citrus Whispers Theatre in Ngara, its memory is only shared orally in small circles of theatre enthusiasts and progressively fades into oblivion.
Marcel also observes that there might be differences of intention between local organizers and their western counter parts. Western donors will usually partner with art organizers with the sole agenda of putting Nairobi on the Map! 

This paper also points out how foreign donors came to settle in the art space. As is always the case most of the foreign donors have a role play and an agenda they seek to push.  Marcel makes this clear by pointing out how informal settlements have become attractive for art projects which are usually financed by foreign donors.
Download the publication here [pdf]

Olivier Marcel is a PhD student in geography who is currently completing his thesis titled “Tracing Art from Nairobi, Geog­raphy of Art Mobilities in an East African Metropolis” (Bordeaux 3 University - LAM, UMR 5115).

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