In Summary
  • Wambui would contest my suggesting her film is exceptional
  • What’s equally striking about her installation is her meticulous attention to detail
  • Wambui says she hopes her installation sparks debate and critical conversation, not only in Kenya but around the region where she hopes to take what she feels are the most portable and relevant features

When I arrived at the Kuona Trust’s most recent exhibition — a multimedia installation entitled Harambee 63, what was most striking was not so much the discovery that its creator Wambui Kamira has a Masters of Science degree in African History from Oxford University (although that’s pretty impressive).

Nor is it the fact that she’s one Kenyan visual artist who can get several ambassadors, corporate heads and even a former presidential candidate to attend her exhibition opening.

For me, it’s the way she also managed to construct a low-budget documentary film for her show, which captures so many memorable moments with leading 20th century revolutionaries – from Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba and Martin Luther King Jr to Franz Fanon, Leopold Senghor and even John F. Kennedy.

Wambui would contest my suggesting her film is exceptional. “The material is accessible to any interested person. The clips are all on YouTube,” says the petite historian turned visual artist, expressing a sentiment that comes out clearly in her installation, the subtitle of which is African Revolutions and Ordinary People.

“It’s ordinary people who make revolutions,” says Wambui, who has chosen to create a simulation of one of the most common sites where so-called ordinary people congregate – a humble everyday people’s bar.

Complete with everything from the mabati and cardboard walls, plastic table clothes, cups and chairs to the wrought iron grill that separates the cashbox, Mpesa agent and beer crates from the drinking hall, what’s equally striking about her installation is her meticulous attention to detail.

For she doesn’t forget the wall menu, dirty ashtray or even the pangas stacked up in a corner, which she says is a feature that reflects back on the 1950s in Kenya when the Mau Mau used bars of sympathisers as transit points for weapons on route to the freedom fighters in the forest.

It’s a historical period of African history that Wambui began researching on as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, US. It’s also a subject that she did her masters’ dissertation on at Oxford, entitled Kenya 1948-1953: Memorialisation of the Kimathi Family.

NOT JUST ABOUT KENYA'S LIBERATION STRUGGLE

Although the beer ads on the bar walls are for Kenyan drinks and the menu is “Mama Njeri’s”, Wambui insists her installation isn’t only about the Kenyan liberation struggle.

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