The exhibition ‘27’, which showed from the 10th-17th of November, 2017 at the Shift Eye Gallery in Nairobi, featured excerpts of text from Kenya’s constitution in juxtaposition with Kenya’s penal code, showcasing the glaring disconnect between the enshrined rights, freedoms, and dignity promised to us in the constitution and the criminalization of bodies and consensual sexual acts practiced in the penal code. These texts were interspersed with judgements put forward by the Magistrates, demonstrating the deeply ingrained prejudices, which ran contrary to the Constitution, but are upheld.
While the text of the exhibition presented to the audience the legal framework in which we exist, the art and sound design elaborated on the lived realities of the law on our bodies: the code-switching, the performance of masculinity and femininity, the trauma visited upon the body and psyche, and the triumph of some to carve out space for themselves.
My kanga design above, titled “Discor(dance)” therefore sought to capture the dissonance between the loving, ideal life promised to us as citizens of Kenya by our constitution, and the cruel, restrictive reality that we find ourselves living in instead. The kanga is almost entirely inspired by the constitution of Kenya – especially article 27 – and the symbolism around it, which are the Kenyan coat of arms and the number “27”.
From the Kenyan coat of arms, I took away the shield and spears which are meant to represent unity and the defense of freedom, and pit the two lions, which are also meant to serve as symbols of protection over the people, against each other. The colour black traditionally represents the people of Kenya while the colour red signifies our struggle for freedom. I therefore chose to depict a black lion with a red outline (to symbolize the Kenyan majority, who are many in number and have fewer struggles for freedom) in battle with a red lion with a black outline (to symbolize the Kenyan minority, whose numbers are much less but have larger struggles for freedom to contend with). Using the number “27” I was able to create a heart shape to signify the loving ideals contained in the constitution, and especially in Article 27. It is in this playing field that we’re able to take on the majority and fight for our right to exist and love freely. The idea of forbidden love that is part of our current lived reality was then captured in the caged-heart border pattern and kanga saying which is a Kiswahili translation of a quote from Romeo Oriogun’s book “Metamorphosis” – ‘.. Still we love, and hide, and wait..’
The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission was responsible for putting the “27” exhibition together and you can check them out on their Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts. This kanga is available for purchase directly from me, but also available as MERCHANDISE from NGLHRC so maybe contact email@example.com if interested. I believe they have journals and fridge magnets available right now but should also have tote bags and more in time.