The challenges of reinvigorating democracy through visual art in 21st century Nairobi.

Halliday, Craig (2019) The challenges of reinvigorating democracy through visual art in 21st century Nairobi. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This study examines the potential for contemporary visual art to reinvigorate democracy in 21st century Nairobi, Kenya, through an interdisciplinary investigation. The new millennium ushered in fresh hope for democratisation in the postcolonial East African country. In 2002, Daniel arap Moi’s 24 years of authoritarian rule ended. The opposition were victorious at the ballot box, instilling a belief amongst the electorate that formal political processes could bring change. However, the post-election violence of 2007/8 shattered such convictions. But, from this election result came a progressive Constitution and with it possibilities for creating change. These momentous events underscore Kenya’s topsy-turvy path towards democracy – a path whose trajectory is charted in the experience of ordinary Kenyans who believe in democracy’s value and their right to participate in politics and civil life.

Artists, too, have been at the forefront of this ongoing struggle. This study draws on empirical research to demonstrate contemporary visual art’s capacity to expand ways of practising, experiencing and understanding democracy. It does so through examining a range of art forms (painting, photography, installation art, graffiti, and ‘artivism’) in gallery type settings and public urban spaces. The research makes apparent the challenges artists face which include the commercialisation and donor-driven influences within Kenya’s artworld, moments of institutional censorship and State suppression of activist initiatives. Nevertheless, the methods and techniques discussed often enabled new means of political engagement, the construction of social and political consciousness, and the expansion and animation of Kenya’s public sphere.

Outcomes of this research include the potential to empower artists and cultural workers with strong evidence to inform the use of art in finding solutions to local and global issues and in promoting liberal freedoms. It has implications for policy debates, emphasising the value of art in strategies for revitalising public participation in political and civic life.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 22 Feb 2021 11:47
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2021 11:47


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