Osborne Macharia and Kevo Abbria are surrealist storytellers. They are currently showing off ‘7 Years of Afro-Futurism’ at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi.
They are also magical mixed media men. One is a photographer, the other a fashion designer and together they create captivating images complete with caption-like stories that feel like they are fresh out of somebody’s hallucinogenic dream.
Presented as if the images are anthropological finds, the seven sets of photographs are described as if they are ‘discoveries’ made by the two as they travelled to obscure corners and enclaves of Nairobi.
These never-before-seen clubs, clans and ‘special units’ are all said to be “little known … till now.” That line, found at the bottom of all seven captions apparently translates to mean they all came out of the fertile imaginations of Osborne’s and Kevo’s minds.
The show is puzzling at first. But once you realise these two are ‘merry pranksters’ having fun being as plausibly outrageous as possible, you have to marvel at their genius.
They seem to take as their baseline of believability, Nairobi’s popular urban culture, including everything from Marvel comics and ‘Black Panther’ references to mitumba and Mau Mau generals including Mau Mau wives. They tune in to youth fetishes for fashion, fancy hairdos and ‘found objects’ transformed into junk art.
But then they take off into uncharted territories of consciousness. They make their ‘discoveries’ everywhere from Nairobi’s Kawangware and Kipipiri forest to Kibera, Lake Magadi and unknown sites.
Only two sets of the seven feature women but their women are glorious creatures who you would love to meet in real life.
The four Kipipiri women are said to be a ‘special unit’ of Mau Mau Generals’ wives who, like their spouses are ‘leaders’ in their own right. Whenever there is a full moon, they emerge with super high-styled hair do’s.
But it’s the Lake Magadi women who are even more intriguing. They are “former female circumcisers” who abandoned female genital mutilation to now design elegant ethnic fashions.
The men’s groups are mainly seers or defensive fighters.
The ‘Kawangware Defence Force’ is made up of HIV/Aids orphan boys who go to school by day and go on duty with Kenya Defence Forces by night.
Hooked up with discarded boda boda helmets and home-made electronic that can trace criminal prowlers, the KDF’s work is to detect and then relay ‘untraceable’ calls to alert the local police.
Another group of fighters were ‘found’ underground beneath the city. Osborne and Abbria only found five midgets who are members of the Nairobi Fight Club. Funded by local elites, they are involved in intensive training.
But the ‘researchers’ didn’t identify what they were being trained to fight for. Could that suggest there will be another instalment of their Afro-Futurist ‘documentation’?
There are two groups of seers. One is the Ilgelunot, blind Maasai elders who were rescued by Wakanda’s King T’Chaka after which they became his trusted advisers with extraordinary powers acquired from exposure to the mysterious metal, Vibranium.
The other group belongs to a secret unit of Mau Mau fighter who also have special powers. Called ‘Macicio’, they are five opticians who create handcrafted spectacles.