I’m working on a piece about international cultural centres in Africa (Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institut, British Council, etc). In other parts of the world they tend to use their centres as a way of pushing their own culture, taking Shakespeare to Shanghai or Brecht to Brisbane.
In Nairobi though a lot of the work appears to be about promoting and working in partnership with local artists. In a country which is struggling to feed its own people it’s not surprising that there is little monetary support from the government for the Kenyan arts scene. So the international cultural centres step in, providing venues and resources.
The Goethe has been working with a whole host of new Kenyan artists, including Peterson Kamwathi and the guys at Just-a-Band, whose TRANSMSSN show ran in May. The British Council is funding Wapi, a monthly event with hip-hop, poetry and graffiti. In the most recent issue of Africa Report Parselelo Kantai wrote about a Wapi event at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Muthaiga that included a graffiti artistspraying an image of Mau Mau fighter Dedan Kimathi on the living room wall.
The Alliance* seems to be somewhere between the two schools of thought: providing a space for some interesting new Kenyan art, while also bringing French culture to Nairobi. If what I saw last week at Alliance is any guide, they should stick to Kenyan culture.
One show was an exhibition of young Kenyan artists called ‘Stereotypes II’, the other was a performance by a French brass band. The exhibition was small and the standard was a bit mixed, but it’s clearly a fascinating project which would have struggled to get off the ground without the support of the Alliance.
The band, however, was an embarrassment. Nine French guys in pantaloons arsing about on stage playing ‘comedy’ brass band renditions of such classics as Europe’s The Final Countdown.
*I would have provided a link to the Alliance website but it doesn’t seem to work…