Kikulacho ki nguoni mwako is a Swahili proverb that means: that which eats you is within you. A befitting title of the art exhibition held over the weekend at the British Institute of Eastern Africa in Nairobi.
As the constant element in life, food was the centre stage of the exhibition, which explored the ways in which individuals interact with food. The artists explored food accessibility and availability as well as the objects and practices associated with food.
Bringing Kiamaiko to the CBD
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Kiamaiko (at Michael’s) is the biggest goat market in the city, bringing different types of people from across East Africa. As part of the exhibition was an installation. Mbuzi na Mbuzi (goat and goat) that brought the market to the Institute.
The essence was to capture the ambience, activities and the feel of the market: from slaughtering the goats to the purchase of food, freshly prepared on site, the viewers were able to immerse themselves in the ‘market’.
The curator, Joost Fontein, who is also the director of the Institute, also included a short film about the market that gives a glimpse of the complexity of the marketplace and dynamics of the processes and the people within Kiamaiko.
Exploring class dynamics
Another installation was A Table for Two by Onyis Martin, an exploration of the spaces in which people in Nairobi consume their food.
Aptly titled, a Table for Two juxtaposes how different classes of people dine. On one side of the table is a fully set table – complete with cutlery and furnishing against a background of a stencilled wall. On the other side of the table are a plate, spoon and tumbler, against a wall that itemises foods on sale.
The installation sought to question the public’s perception of the dining spaces as well as the judgment that comes with it. In a way, it interrogates the perception versus the reality presented by the packaging and aesthetics that feature in these spaces.
While Martin looked at the class dynamics, Mwini Mutuku ventures into the world of food as medicine. His installation, in text and video, questions the information given to the public in relation to food and food options available for them.
His choice of cassava as the focus of his installation is deliberate as it the perfect metaphor for the subject he is exploring. Cassava contains the toxic cyanide but at the same time, it has been purported as the alternative to common staple foods such as maize and wheat.
The interaction between Nairobi and the world is captured in Mashakura by Wambui Collymore who seeks to question the reports on what Kenya exports to the world and what Kenyans consume.
Through the artwork, Wambui asks Kenyans to look at the possibilities that come with food innovation that has found its way into spaces in Nairobi.
A little Fiction
The exhibition also featured a conversation on how artists have used the concept of food in their works. Focusing on Breaking Bread in Eastleigh by Bethuel Muthee and Sikuku by Doseline Kiguru, the conversation explored the daily experiences of individuals with food, the aspect of hunger and food security in urban spaces and sustainability.
The exhibition is timely especially in a country where food, as intimate and as public, is a vital conversation not only at the individual level but also at the national level. Its focused on the mundane daily association with food opens up the space to interrogate, connect and explore other aspects of food in terms of policy, urban spaces and roles of food.
The exhibition is the third part of the Remains, Waste & Metonymy series of exhibitions held in 2015/2016 and 2017. It featured works from Joan Otieno, Joost Fontein, Billy Kahora, Craig Halliday, Doseline Kiguru, Elias Mungora, Gor Soudan, Wambui Collymore, James Muriuki, Wycliffe Opondo, Joel Lukovi, Kevo Stero, Onyis Martin, Bethuel Muthee and Mwini Mutuku.