States of the Arts


Untitled – Electoral Charge of Kenya

by Peterson Kamwathi

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In a large, life-size drawing, six men stand in line. All wear suits, the folds of trousers and ties articulated through the shifting densities of charcoal. Each man raises a piece of paper to his head, two eyeholes cut out to enable surveillance. Although the documents that they hold are identical, their contents are obfuscated by the crumbling, fragile medium in which they are rendered. A numerical tally provides the backdrop, groups of five scratched over and over behind them. It is unclear whether the stats stack up as a vote count, or something more sinister. The work’s subtitle could hint towards both the allegations of fraud surrounding Kenya’s 2007 presidential contest, and the violence that followed.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

The Roadside

directed by Willie Owusu
Short film

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A city-dwelling couple take a trip out into the countryside, in the hope that a change of scenery will bring romance and adventure. Instead, they spend the journey in silence, their respective internal monologues laying bare the cracks in their relationship. After a chance encounter with another man, the young woman enjoys a brief insight into an alternative existence, charged with the sharp repartee and humour that she longs to share with a partner. As she leaves her new acquaintance behind, though, she shares an empty kiss with her current boyfriend and retreats back into her own mind.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate

Blood Sunday

by Kithaka wa Mberia

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‘The reggae beat / Roars through the air’ in the opening of ‘Blood Sunday’, the first two lines littered with the alliterative roll of an ‘r’ sound. Momentum builds as Kithaka wa Mberia sets a scene of political turmoil, which escalates over the course of the poem’s four-part structure. In the second section, bullets slam ‘into walls, / Telegraph poles / Cars of all colours’. The narrator concludes by mourning the ‘blood and skulls’ that have accumulated over the years, despite attempts by individuals to pave a different path. The ‘empty roads / Of the government’, long and winding, are emphasised by the elongated final stanza.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou


by Suzanna Owíyo

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‘Sandore’ revels in its shifting timbres. It opens with a harpsichord solo and climaxes with an extended improvisation for synthesised trumpet, taking in electronic beats, an acoustic guitar, and samba-tinged piano riffs along the way. The song is similarly assorted in its musical influences, fusing elements of traditional East African music, South American dance rhythms, and contemporary jazz. Suzanna Owíyo’s rich alto voice is the central focus, exchanging melodies with a multi-tracked backing chorus, but there is ample space for instrumental solos throughout. This is never clearer than with the closing, trumpet-led section, which builds up to one last recitation of the chorus.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

Untitled – Electoral Charge of Kenya: Read Peterson Kamwathi’s bio, along with a gallery of his work, on the ARTLabAfrica website.

The Roadside: Watch the short film here.

Blood Sunday: Read the poem here, Kithaka wa Mberia has written about his poetry for the Daily Nation.

Sandore: Listen to the song here.

Question of the day

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