This past Wednesday, Sas and I braved the torrential downpour and made our way to Circle Art for a new show in Nairobi called “Proximity to Power,” featuring a few of our favorite artists. In the lead, up to the Kenyan General elections, this opportune and powerful group show, curated by Kenyan Thom Ogonga, critiques how such a diverse populace as Kenya remains susceptible to xenophobia and tribal alliances when it comes to politics and group decision making. Tribal and class allegiances, when push comes to shove, generate a false alienation that ironically adopts historical colonialist tendencies of “divide and rule.”
The show features three of my favorite start talents from Kenya – Peterson Kamwathi, Onyis Martin, Longinos Nagila, as well as relative newcomer (to me) Nicholas Odhiambo. Each piece grapples with the notions of how power seduces and controls, and how nepotism and favoritism inevitably leads to democratic decay.
One of my favorite pieces, Martin Onyis’s “The Society of Spectacles,” is a brilliant and sobering reflection on the historic cost of nepotism and tribalism in Kenya’s election past. Reminiscent of exhibits at Cambodia’s Choeung Ek Genocide Museum, where distrust and inhumanity is displayed less theoretically but in a painfully physical way, here too Onyis takes his audience on a journey that is visceral. I was transported through time, sending chills down my spine.
Another star of the show for me was Peterson Kamwathi’s “Six Piece,” a stunning installation, highlighting the existing social norms – and normalized legal norms - that restrict voter choice and selection – running counter to any progress in social justice and transparency in the political process.
Check out the show, download the catalogue, and see for yourself here
“Proximity to Power” runs through July 26th.