The New National Museums of Kenya
I have been meaning to visit the newly constructed and refurbished National Museums of Kenya (NMK) located on Museum hill. The place, which has been closed for renovations for the last two years, was finally re-opened early this month in time for the Jamhuri day through the funding of the European Union.
Today as I was perusing ‘The EastAfrican’, I came across an article by Binyavanga Wainaina, the winner of 2004 Caine prize as well as founder of Kwani Trust. Apparently the Mural that was painted last year by a group of artists including John Kamicha, Faith Nancy, Simon Mureithi, among others, was last week defaced and in its place, ‘the colour of baby food’ coating painted on the walls, ‘to reflect their corporate colors’. The mural was a work commissioned by the same Museum to the group of artists as a reflection of our culture.
It now seems like the new management of the Museum has different priorities which, are not necessarily meant to reflect those of the public for whom they serve, but to server other interests, maybe of a few corporates or those now funding it.
The Museum has been known to promote generations of Pioneer artists in Kenya over the years. That is why it does not make any artistic sense why one year down the line after commissioning the painting of a mural, they want walls to be in sync with their corporate colors.
Have they stopped to think what message they are sending out to, not only those artists who spent weeks at their grounds, climbing makeshift ladders mounted on a wall just to come up with the mural, but also to all Kenyan Artists.
If I were an artist, I would be very wary if my artwork is hanged on their walls because, one cannot tell what will happen when they change their mind on their corporate image as it seems to be the most important thing to them at the peril of the call of duty (full pun intended).
I find it ironic that the claim of our cultural artefacts that have been enjoying attention at various museums including the British museum does not appear anywhere in their agenda. If you recall, sometime last year, I posted a rather angry article on the ‘Hazina’ exhibition. This was an exhibition that was organized by the NMK through the support of British Museum at the Old Pc’s house next to Nyayo House on Kenyatta Avenue. It was a showcase of the various artefacts and items of cultural relevance from most tribes in Eastern Africa classified according to the rites of passage and a bit of focus on the Kenyan Independence. The exhibition ran for almost 6 months after which, all the items were taken back to Britain as they had been lent to NMK particularly for the exhibition.
I personally went for the exhibition about 4 times and every time I went there, I left a bitter person. I asked a lot of questions which never got answers. I together with other visitors who could not understand how a ‘Mwengu’ (a traditional garment of the Kikuyu) could have been ‘obtained by …….(some Briton) and was later donated to the BM in…….’ as most of the info cards showed of many items at the exhibition rooms.
I find it an outright betrayal by NMK, who despite knowing that these items hold the key to unlocking our memories of who we are, cannot fight for them to be returned. One NMK staff was not even ashamed to say that “we do not have the right facilities to preserve these things and that is why we are ok with the British Museum keeping them as the BM has all the facilities including qualified staff”. This was after they were questioned why the artefacts were being sent back.
In one of his lecturers during his recent tour of Kenya, Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o re-iterated that Kenyans need to re-member their present with their past which has been disconnected and continues to be, every day when our kids prefer watching cartoon and playing video games instead of visiting the Kenya National Archives and other culturally informative venues.
The Hazina Exhibition should have been made one of the venues included in all Historic institutional trips and a haven where Kenyans go back to, to retrace their steps.