“There is strong Russian propaganda in Africa – we are working to create the image of Ukraine” – a curator about a mural in Kenya
In the city of Nairobi, in Kenya, the Ukrainian mural “Grains of Culture” was opened. Became part of the first large-scale Ukrainian art project on the African continent. The mural was created by Kenyan artists Moha and Eliamin Ink together with Ukrainian artists Alina Konyk, Andrii Kovtun and Nikita Kravtsov – it is part of the international mural project “The Wall”. UP.Zhyttia asked curator Katya Taylor about the symbolism of the project, as well as what people in Africa know about Ukraine. “The project was approved a year ago, we hesitated for a long time where to implement it. In October, we went on our first trip to Vienna, then Brussels, Marseille and finally we came to Kenya. That is, it is a project that covers Europe and one can say Africa. The mural is relevant , but it is not about war – it is important, but there are many projects that already talk about it. Ours is more about cooperation, collaboration between countries,” says the curator. A Ukrainian mural was opened in the center of Nairobi. Photo: Katya Taylor’s press service approved the sketch of the triptych, but the final decision on its implementation was made by the artists themselves. The name “Cultural Grains” is symbolic. Emphasizes cooperation, exchange between Ukraine and Africa. “Ukraine supplies grain to Africa – even now, when we have a full-scale war. Ukraine helps Kenya – a ship with humanitarian aid – grain will arrive in a few days. Africa supplies coffee to the whole world, including to Ukraine. The mural is a trilogy that reveals the theme of our relations from dialogue between people and to economic, political and cultural relations. Our main thesis was cooperation between Kenya and Ukraine,” says the curator. He emphasizes that the presence of Ukraine in Africa is almost not felt. Read also: Drawings on ceramics and casts from the body: the works of Maria Kulikovska will be shown in Hong Kong “Ukrainian presence has become active in Europe in a year – they know us, they know about our culture, history, values. And this is not at all what is happening in Africa – here they have their own agenda, an understanding of what Ukraine is – and it is very far away for them. Why should they worry about us, join the dialogue, support Ukraine? And this cannot be the case if we want to strengthen our voice here, to gain support in international organizations , which influence the decisions made in favor of Ukraine. Now we need to build these relations, first of all on the African continent, where Ukraine is represented very little – there are only 6 embassies,” says Katya Taylor. For Ukraine, this is a precedent – a project of this scale did not exist in Africa. “Countries that seem very far to us are very close to us in spirit. Kenya shares with us the values of democracy. Besides, African countries, just like us, have a colonial past – no one knows what imperialist narratives are. They got rid of this in Africa – we still have this influence. We do not have a task to compare – the ex-British empire has very carefully rethought its past – and this is not happening with Russia. The project does not compare experiences, but suggested to look at the past, when we did not have a voice And now we can demonstrate our heritage, talk about our history, return our cultural values,” says the curator. A Ukrainian mural was opened in the center of Nairobi. Photo: Katya Taylor’s press service emphasizes that Russian propaganda is powerful in African countries – even at the stage of creating the mural, bots attacked the authors on social networks. “People who think critically, who are involved in the international agenda know more about Ukraine – they understand what is happening in our country. They are on our side. But ordinary Kenyans know very little about Ukraine and are influenced by propaganda. They know us thanks to the students. But this created a rather negative image for us. Because when students from Africa were detained at the border at the beginning of the war, Russia dispersed the fake that Ukrainians are racists. And it flew so far that we still cannot catch it. When they talk about Ukraine here, 3 messages are noticeable. What we are at war with Russia and this is a civil war, that Ukrainians are racists, the third positive is a huge grain supply campaign. But there are also a lot of lies. Because when Russia occupied Mariupol and stole the grain, they sold it under their own label. The project is the first step , which we are doing on the African cultural scene – it seems to have been successful,” says the curator. She shares that the project has become one of the most difficult that she has implemented. “It is not easy to promote your messages in Africa – because Kenyans perceive white people who come with their ideology as those who impose their ideas, they are called ‘mizungu’ here. We have to be loyal, diplomatic, in the way we communicate, we convey our ideas. One of the important narratives is that Russia is not a fighter against imperialism, as it presents itself here, but is itself an empire. And this is a myth that needs to be debunked, but in a very soft way. You can’t just say that Russia you are not a friend – it is not clear to Kenyans. There is a lot of work for us here – and art is an international language that does not need translation. We will leave – but the mural will remain,” says Katya Taylor. In preparation for the opening of the mural, the artists also painted a local transport – a matatu. It was embodied by two artists from Kenya, Moha and Eliamin Ink, with the participation of Ukrainian colleagues.
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