Kenya: Recollecting Memory and Saving Language

After a three-year hiatus, Wambui Kamiru Collymore presents a new solo show, called Wakariru, at the One Off Gallery's pop-up space in Nairobi's Rosslyn Riviera Mall. In it she reviews collective memory, the loss of language and of orally transmitted knowledge.

She uses different techniques to tackle the subject. On one side, Wambui has installed a blue iron-sheet house that is a replica of her grandmother's home.

Inside is a three-stone fireplace, a chicken coop, and maize cobs hanging from the rafters. Within this kitchen-cum-sleeping area is where women of that time swapped stories, sharing their knowledge with the younger ones.

Wambui herself held conversations in her grandmother's house. "My biggest worry is the libraries we lose when an elderly person passes away before the knowledge they have has been documented," says Wambui.

Wakariru is the name of a traditional song Wambui's grandfather used to sing to her, and which inspired this art installation.

Tin can phones around the pop-up space play Wakariru, a tune often sung by women as they worked but whose lyrics are becoming less known.

Another part of the installation pays tribute to the role of women in the Mau Mau during Kenya's independence struggle.

Along two walls are portrait photographs of women of the struggle. They were food carriers, messengers and informants. Many were imprisoned and others lost their children in the fighting.

The women's faces have been cut out and their faceless portraits are superimposed onto colonial era maps, as though stressing how their valuable contribution has been forgotten.

A soundless video clip projected onto the tin house shows a solitary African woman in England delivering letters to statues and monuments connected to Britain's era of colonialism. The letters demand to know the whereabouts of missing freedom fighters.

A sense of detachment and indifference surrounds the woman's efforts, echoing the impersonal manner that the UK's colonial past with the Kenya is treated.

Wambui has a Master's of Science degree in African studies and is exploring the legacy of colonialism and African identity.

The exhibition is on until the end of April.

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