Crafting Kenya

crafting Kenya


This September, Wanja Laiboni will travel throughout Kenya, with a professional photographer, documenting and studying Kenya’s diverse traditional crafts.She aims to collect the stories behind the crafts, the inspiration for their colors and symbols, and the materials and techniques used. The objective is to cover as much ground as possible, ensuring that the wealth of Kenya’s crafts is captured in images and words since the accelerating pace of urbanization and global cultural exchanges – that could potentially erode local cultures – indicates a clear and urgent need for preservation. The final project delivery is a professionally designed, digital compilation of Kenya’s crafts.


I believe that preservation needn’t be a long and bureaucratic process, and that preservation and creativity aren’t mutually exclusive.  In fact, I see the best kind of preservation as being one that transforms culture in its raw form into cultural symbols, products and images that remain present in our everyday lives, as opposed to living in documents in dusty archives that few have access to.

– Wanja Laiboni


Wanja has launched a fundraising campaign at Indiegogo and M-Changa (Kenyan equivalent of Indiegogo). Crafting Kenya now has a team of 7 people based in Kenya, Italy and France. To learn more about her and the impetus behind the project, watch the video below.



One of my favorite aspects of this project is Wanja’s commitment to ensuring the photographs and the information gathered is beneficial to the general public. As such, the final project delivery will also be availed to Kenyan university students in relevant fields of study, National Museums of Kenya and the Kenya Tourism Board. She also plans to organise a public photography exhibition at Nairobi National Museum, or other Nairobi-based cultural institutions, at the end of 2014 or early 2015.


wanja quote

Background Photo: Colorful bowls made from Kisii soapstone (found in Western Kenya). Image credit – Wanja Laiboni


Support this incredible project by contributing at Indiegogo, M-Changa or by simply spreading word!

You can also follow Crafting Kenya on Facebook.


wanja logo

Kampala Art Biennale 2014 | Call For Submissions

Kampala Biennale

Kampala Art Biennale is a showcase of contemporary art from Africa with the aim to expose, educate and create debate about the value of art in our society. They are calling all artists working in Africa to apply to partake in the first Kampala Art Biennale. Applications are now open and you are requested to apply online through their website. Application is free of charge and deadline for entries is March 31st 2014.


The first Kampala Art Biennale 2014 is themed: Progressive Africa. The theme is derived from the current Pan African – and increasingly global discussion and discourse that Africa’s economic growth and development is booming and happening right now. Popular phrases heard are: “Africa Is The Future” and “Africa Rising”,

Today…you will come across divergent conversations between different kinds of people; African with African, African with European, Indian with American, all talking about the status of Africa in the global village. Some will say Europe and the rest of the world are moving to Africa for opportunities while others will say African economies are growing into Global markets. In these conversations there is talk about which strategies are the best to accelerate Africa’s progress towards fulfilling the millennium development goals (MDGS) such as curbing poverty, improving formal education…There is increased concern from the west about increased Chinese investment on the continent…All these vibrations suggest one thing; that something is happening on the African continent whether right now as it moves into the future.

The Kampala Art Biennale 2014 is part of this discussion and is calling on African painters, photographers, illustrators, cartoonists, writers and all 2D media artists to present their perception of the current status of Africa through visual art. The verdict will result in over 100 images pro or against the purported progress, with viewers and visitors joining in on the discussion with the help of the visual aids. They believe that this will result in the questioning of African political, social and economic practices.

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Ralph Ziman’s “Ghosts” | Yarned & Dangerous

ralph ziman

South African filmmaker and artist Ralph Ziman photographed Zimbabwean street vendors wielding handmade replicas of AK-47s, adorned in traditional Shona style beading. The vibrant multimedia project, aims to highlight issues related to international arms dealing and its devestating influence.

Ziman, a street artist employs piercing colors and images that are arresting with knitted masks and beaded weapons. The obsession with guns and the power they provide is brought to the fore creating a bizarre and almost surreal image. The vendors who star in Ziman’s photos were not at all directed in how to pose with the weapon replicas. Yet, when observing these pictures, one senses that the weapons are dangerous totems to behold.


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The Donkey That Carried The Cloud On Its Back


© Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann

Director: Philippa Ndisi-Hermann
Producer: Atieno Odenyo
Category: Documentary
Language: English
Crowdfunding period: 12th of November – 22th of December

The International Documentary Film Festival and CineCrowd present a special crowdfunding campaign from Kenya: The Donkey that Carried the Cloud on its Back. The film, by Philippa Ndisi Hermann and Atieno Odenyo also received financial support from the IDFA Bertha Fund and participated in the IDFA WorldView Summer School last July.

This documentary feature film is about the Kenyan island, Lamu, which is an island frozen in time. Now, Africa’s largest port is being constructed there. It was once a rich trading town and the East African coast gave rise to a new culture and a new people – the Swahili. Lamu town survived and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.

The port foundation stone was laid last year. At a cost of 3.5 billion USD, the port will be capable of handling ships almost half the size of the island of up to 100,000 tonnes. Lamu Island has one car and more than 3000 donkeys. Electricity is provided by generators and there is no modern water sewage system. Marginalised economically by mainland Kenya. Lamu relies on tourism where backpackers rub shoulders with the Princess of Monaco.

foreboding change

The use of still photos in the documentary is so as to evoke the possibility of foreboding change. © Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann


A baptism at the shore of the Indian Ocean. Lamu island is predominantly Muslim. The Baptists came from a town 1000 km away. Aug 2013
© Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann

The advent of the port is giving rise to land speculations, to environmental concerns, to the influx of people, change is coming, change is needed. Is this what the port will bring?

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Ankom Dreams | We Are the Same


Clockwise from left: Giovani Degbadjo, Babacar Samba-naudin Pro, Babacar Samba-Naudin, Gauderic Vilmaure, Deejay Jewell, Paul Amadou Samb and Yannlow Lowkey


Clockwise from left: Giovani Degbadjo, Babacar Samba-naudin Pro, Babacar Samba-Naudin, Gauderic Vilmaure, Deejay Jewell, Paul Amadou Samb and Yannlow Lowkey.

I have been unable to stop looking at these images by the talented duo Ankom Dreams. The photographs are not only powerful because of the contrast in skin tone or because they are in black and white; but also because the expressions of these men are declaratory, with a sense of solidarity and simultaneous defiance.

Exhibition | ‘Archival Impulse’ by Ayana V. Jackson


Ayana V Jackson Drop your chin_Dress my hair, 2013. Archival print 111 x 111cm.

Ayana V. Jackson, Drop your chin/Dress my hair, 2013. Archival pigment print, 111 x 111cm

29th August – 7th October 2013,

The much anticipated new exhibition by American artist Ayana Jackson will be opening on August 29th in Johannesburg at Gallery MOMO and will run until 7th October 2013.

Synopses from the artist past and future exhibitions follow:


Does the brown paper bag test really exist? / Will my father be proud? 2013. Archival pigment print (Ed of 6).

Archival Impulse: The real work of this series does not exist in physical form. It exists in the imaginary; in the space between my reference images, the spectator’s private thoughts/memories/associations, and the reenactments themselves.

At its core, it considers the chapter of photographic history that was underscored by the period of colonial expansion. It considers the role photography played in the architecture of racialized thinking. It considers the potentially violent exchanges between photographer and “subject”, while at the same time considering other interactions between them and looking for traces of agency.

Archival Impulse takes its name from Hal Foster’s idea that by confronting the archive new systems of knowledge can be created. In this case I confront late 19th and early 20th century photographs taken during the period of European colonial expansion. To do this I draw on images sourced from the Duggan Cronin collection created in South Africa, the works of unknown photographers practicing throughout the global south at the time, as well as documentation of reconstructed villages and “native” performers that were touring in Europe’s Human Zoos.

The scholarship of Susan Sontag, Elizabeth Edwards, Okwui Enwezor, Jennifer Bjorek, Pascal Blancher, and Tamar Garb are also informative.   In reading and comparing these texts I have found multiple angles for entering, interpreting and appropriating my reference materials. As visual experiments these final images aim to draw out the multiple ways the originals can be read: ethnographic, anthropologic, pornographic, historical documents, curiosities, etc.

My process involves identifying reoccurring motifs in the original images, interrogating them, performing them, and last, reconstructing them. My primary intervention is in my deliberate choice not to situate the “subjects” in the scenario.

I do this first to bring attention to the fact that these early photographs are theatrical performances written and directed by the photographer and subject alike and as such are fictitious; second to ask questions around the photograph’s potential as agent of propaganda; and last, if not most importantly, to transform this theater into a space where new narratives might emerge.


Death, 2011 Archival Pigment print 145cm x 145cm Edition 6

Poverty Pornography: At its root is about the power of photography. Its motifs, methods, interests, and ultimately its effect on the collective memory.   While I have narrowed in on particular moments in photographic history and certain genres of the medium, this is not a conversation aimed at supporting binaries between the West and non-West, Colonial power and formerly colonized, Black and White, Rich and Poor, but rather to locate what I believe to be photography’s role in supporting, if not sustaining those binaries and the possibility that society as a whole is as much a beneficiary as a victim of photography’s might.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag writes;

The frankest representations of war and of disaster-injured bodies are of those who seem most foreign therefore least likely to be known. With subjects closer to home the photographer is expected to be more discreet …The more remote or exotic, the more likely we are to have full frontal views of the dead and dying…It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked…

It is here that the series Poverty Pornography finds its genesis.

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J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere | Sartorial Moments and the Nearness of Yesterday


From left to right: Untitled (1970), Untitled (1972), Untitled (2006)
Credit: J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere

J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere: Sartorial Moments and the Nearness of Yesterday is the second in The Museum of African Diaspora‘s (MoAD) Curator’s Choice Series. Curated by Olabisi Silva, Director of the Contemporary Centre for Art, Lagos, Sartorial Moments portrays a people defining their place in history.

J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere understood fashion as a personal display of independence, and in the 50 photographs included in this exhibition, dating from 1955 to 2008, he captures traditional Nigerian dress and hairstyles alongside popular Western-style adaptations. Hair, as one of the main identifiers of time and place, became an especially important focus for the artist as he documented the changing body politic of his young nation.

In depicting the complexities of a new and free post-colonial Nigerian society, Ojeikere reveals the degree of influence that the West—particularly the United Kingdom and the United States—has had on the youth of Lagos as they continually negotiate between the old and the new, colonialism and post-colonialism.

About Ojeikere

Born in 1930 in the western part of Nigeria. In his young days Ojeikere incessantly writes the Ministry Of Information, asking them to hire him as an “assistant in the dark room”. His tenacity is rewarded when in 1961 the first television station is founded.

At the eve of the decolonisation he is contacted by the West African Publicity agency. Soon after that he opens his own studio “Foto Ojeikere”. In 1967 he becomes an active member of the Nigeria Art Council, an organisation in charge of organising a festival of visual and living arts.
Hairstyles is his most known collection, involving almost 1000 different hairstyles that give an image of the African woman. He finds these “sculptures for a day” on the street, at a marriage or at work.

With thanks to Fifty One

Exhibition run June 20, 2013 – October 13, 2013

Museum of the African Diaspora
685 Mission Street (at Third)
San Francisco, California 94105
phone: 415.358.7200
fax: 415.358.7252

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Citizens of Porto-Novo | Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou


jack bell

Catch the new body of work by Beninese photographer Leonce Raphael AgbodjelouCitizens of Porto-Novo‘, at the  Jack Bell Gallery in London before it ends on May 25th. This ongoing portraiture project captures the people of Benin’s capital. Using a daylight studio and a medium format camera, Agbodjelou interprets the experience of a generation caught between tradition and progress.

This new series looks at Porto-Novo’s competitive bodybuilders who compete locally and nationally; the subjects aspire to one day achieve recognition beyond West Africa and work towards a better life in Europe. The bodybuilders have been a popular subject in African studio photography since the 1950s and 60s, yet for this series Agbodjelou has them holding fake flowers, a somewhat incongruous touch,

Plastic flowers have always been used in the traditional studios to show style and taste. I thought they added a nice contrast to the musclemen.

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Andre Epstein | Legio Maria


“I use it to stab the devil.”
Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein


Sunday morning. Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein


Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein


Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein

Legio Maria (Latin for ‘Legion of Mary’), is a series of photographs by Andre Epstein. This set of photographs portrays the followers of a Legio Maria church located in Kibera slum, Nairobi.

The Legio Maria church represents the continuation of a Luo community response to Christianity seen in its colonial form, and the control exercised by European missionaries on Christian communities in western Kenya. Legio Maria is a new religious movement and African independent church. The doctrine follows the central message of Christianity, and specifically in the central role of Mary as ‘queen’, ‘mother’ and the ‘mediatrix’. However, beliefs concerning the interaction between the world of the spirits and that of living human beings differs slightly from mainstream Catholic beliefs.


At the Legio Maria church in Kibera, Nairobi. Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein
This notebook is full of revelations from God. he believeS they are in ancient greek, aramaic, and hebrew. one day, he told me, he will learn these languages so he can decipher the many notebooks he has filled with this writing. -Andre

Legio Maria, Makina Stage.

Legio Maria, Makina Stage. Copyright 2012 © Andre Epstein

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Mountain Kingdom by Dylan Culhane



Cape Town based photographer, magazine editor, director and online radio host Dylan Culhane has produced a remarkable series of images he took in Lesotho during a December visit. Lesotho is nicknamed ‘the mountain kingdom’ for it’s unique geography it being the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,000 metres in elevation.



The series of striking photographs are of the spectacular Lesotho landscapes. Created without digital manipulation, the series has been constructed with multiple exposures, paint, collage and filters on 35mm film to produce a vivid, psychedelic portrayal of this stunning country.

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