MOA takes a profound look at Kenya’s popular culture through an illuminating collection of studio photography, from the 1910s to the present day, in the North American premiere of Pigapicha!. Including more than 180 photographs spanning a century, this deeply moving exhibition showcases portraits that are carefully staged in the studio as well as those quickly taken on the streets of Nairobi. The exhibition documents the customs of modern Kenyan urban culture while supporting an East African history of photography.
“MOA has always served as a forum for cultivating an understanding and appreciation of the diversity of world arts and cultures traditions,” explains Nuno Porto, Curatorial Liaison for Pigapicha! at MOA. “This Canadian premiere exhibition aligns with MOA’s mission through a comprehensive examination of studio photography in East Africa, incorporating works from all backgrounds — as opposed to similar projects which have focused on Kenya’s booming middle-class.”
Curator and professional photographer Katharina Greven, formerly of the Goethe-Institut in Kenya, partnered with more than 30 photography studios in Nairobi and consulted with photographers, studio operators, artists, bloggers, journalists and cultural scientists to curate this diverse collection of portraits – a subtle balance between the fine arts and the rich, distinct flavors of East African popular culture.
“A highly-regarded art form in Nairobi, portrait photography is used to tell stories, share social status, and transform everyday life,” says Curator Katharina Greven. “More than a direct reflection of the individual, these self portraits highlight and amplify desirable features to create an illusion of the idyllic self. In the past 15 years, studio photography has experienced an unfortunate decline in popularity — likely a direct result of cameras, now commonplace on mobile phones. For this reason, Pigapicha! serves to recognize and preserve portrait photography as a significant art form and thus connect us to the significant history of urban Kenya before it is lost.”
Pigapicha! – which literally translates as “take my picture!” — will include more than 180 images ranging from carefully staged artistic prints, to passport photos, to pictures snapped hastily on the streets of Nairobi. Judiciously arranged into six thematic groups — Uzee na Busara (Age and Wisdom), I and Me, Open Air, Imaginary ‘Safari’, Speaking from Yesterday and Intimacy — each image will offer a unique stance on the attitudes, beliefs and customs of generations of Nairobi citizens.
Born from the cooperative efforts of Iwalewa Haus and the DEVA-Archive, both with the University of Bayreuth and the Goethe-Institut in Nairobi, this exhibition opening at MOA will mark the first time this powerful collection has been displayed for a North American audience. First presented in 2009 at the Nairobi National Museum, Pigapicha! has since been exhibited in 2011 at Iwalewa Haus in Bayreuth, Germany and in 2013 at the Forum des Arts et de la Culture in Bordeaux, France.
Curators: Nuno Porto and Katharina Greven.