Mathare Futurism

By Kanyi Wyban

In the wake of Covid-19, artists around the world have been called upon to act broadly, bearing responsibility as crucial cultural players. The moment has largely been categorized as a pandemic and one that demands reactive, therapeutic and imaginative responses. With no country or area spared and populations isolated in locked down, most of the marginalized communities remain fundamentally misguided with regard to Covid-19. Authorities are acting recklessly, creating fear and mistrust of a system which continuously lies, and denies rights.

The collaboration between BOM and Mathare Green Movement (MGM) testify to this being a universal truth. BOM is supporting Mathare artists in their quest to simplify the complex Covid-19 information being provided by the government and public health officials into language that can be easily digested by the larger community. The work is of the overall goal of promoting, advancing and protecting people’s human rights as well as fighting inequalities, through the use of art and music to create awareness and hold the state accountable for issues emerging from the pandemic.

No matter where they are from, creative people are now heavily obligated to offer a reflection of society during this unprecedented situation. There is more, perhaps a heavier duty, even. In order to participate in building a more sustainable and fairer future, to be an artist means to provide your vision, questions and ideas on what the post crisis could be like and whether or not we can reinvent it. It also means, which is equally important, to offer an escape and deliver a message of hope.

Mathare is a 3km squared informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, with a staggering population of more than 400,000 residents. The inadequacy of basic amenities here is overwhelming. Without regular water flowing in taps, filthy community toilets, poor drainage and no garbage collection services whatsoever, life in Covid-19 times is additionally burdened. The conversation itself on social distancing is impossible to have in such context, not to mention having to grapple with the harsh reality of rampant police violence.

When we talk of sanitizing as a crucial measure to curb the spread of the virus, we easily leave out our environment, which remains paramount to long-term hygiene, way after the pandemic. MGM is focused on improving social cohesion and dignified living conditions through the creation of more green spaces. This is a bold initiative towards designing alternative futures in a world where structures of violence have been normalized.

With Covid-19 and Kenya’s dusk-to-dawn curfew response, Mathare continues to be a harsh ocean with no lifeboats. One must now either simply sink or swim. Community mistrust of state security bears deep tentacles and art becomes a potent device through which to reinvent a safer future – tomorrow’s world. Aside creating awareness, Mathare youth are using trees to remember victims of police brutality and stand in solidarity with people all over the world who have been stripped of their dignity and who have been killed by their state. In Mathare, as in the US and the rest of the world, the struggle against inequality is the struggle against forgetting.

In a moment of social distancing, creative people around the globe MUST carry on with reinforcing our underlying equality as fairly frail humans, simply using tools to get by. From Nairobi to Birmingham, artists spiritedly sing into existence beautiful melodies of a joint resilience, a universal struggle. For that is the very substance humanity is made of. And it is easier to retain our humanity now more than ever. Should we not, in times of crises, we never had it in the first place.

Aluta continua!