Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Abstract

In an age of globalization, when as a result of enhanced telecommunication and global media, the world's population is more interconnected than ever, the public at large still tends to associate Africa with poverty, disease and political instability. Yet keen observers of the social landscape have observed that despite Africa's legacy of woes, cultural productivity in the region is on the rise, leading scholars to refer to the phenomenon as an African Renaissance. This is particularly the case in Kenya where a contemporary art movement is flourishing through both local and global art networks. But the question remains: how in the midst of poverty and political instability can there be so much cultural productivity? Based on field research involving participant observation and interviews with more than 200 artists and cultural workers in Kenya's capital city, I argue that it is due largely to an `emergent cultural practice' given the Kiswahili term `jua kali'. By virtue of jua kali artists `making do' with minimal resources and maximum ingenuity, imagination, originality and entrepreneurial acumen, they are creating new art forms or bricolage, the clearest evidence of which is what Kenyan artists call `junk art'; which is made from global garbage garnered from dump sites, then recycled into original artworks, and finally shown/sold in local and transnational art markets, thus reflecting global flows. This genre of contemporary Kenyan art defies stereotypical myths of `tribal art' and `the primitive other'. These hegemonic myths still pervade most Western art markets, but jua kali artists--working through both local and transnational networks -- are striving to debunk them by their works with increasing success.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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