Tracing the Wild at Nairobi Design Week 2023
In May last year, I was connected with Mark Stephenson, the managing director of Sandstorm Kenya. He wanted to discuss possible collaborations between the leather and accessory brand with the safari guiding industry, but also to introduce the Opportunity Factory.
We met at the site on Mbagathi Ridge in Karen that was originally occupied by Kazuri Beads and had recently been taken over by Sandstorm. Mark gave me a tour of the then vacant buildings, all in need of some renovation, and he described how the space was soon to become rejuvenated as the Sandstorm production facility and a venue for various other home-grown Kenyan creative businesses.
Fast-forward nine months and I was back to check on the progress and enjoy a cappuccino and pastry from the newly opened Spring Valley Coffee outlet. The place has been transformed; with a glass-fronted outlet store at the entrance, showcasing numerous wares locally produced, neatened pathways and seating areas, revamped factory and co-working spaces.
The place was a hive of activity as this weekend is the launch of the annual Nairobi Design Week (NDW). I met up with the founder, Adrian Jankowiak, and his partner, Naitiemu, to discuss the upcoming event.
Launched in 2015, NDW is a platform for Kenyan and East African creatives to showcase their work. Adrian explained that there is a chosen theme each year, but that it always needs to fit the concept of Life and Design. and add to the event’s values learned each year, with every artistic medium welcome, from architecture to web-design. This year, the theme is ‘It’s What We Make It’, and the event will run from Saturday 11th to Sunday March 19th.
There will be physical exhibitions throughout such as a collaborative weaving exhibit by Africa Collect Textiles that I saw was just getting started, where visitors will be able to contribute to one large piece of art over the course of the week. Kairos Futura will be previewing their Kanairo Space Station, too.
There will also be special events on certain days. There’s a focus on digital art on Thursday 16th and ceramics on Saturday 18th, for instance. Today, Sunday 12th, is a family-focused day, with Cosplay artist Jess Olago and select vendors present.
The flagship exhibit this weekend is Tracing the Wild — a collaboration between the Sovereign Nature Initiative (SNI) and the Kenya Wildlife Trust (KWT). SNI has commissioned various artists to create a series of digital and physical ‘portraits’ and interactive artwork, all interpreting real world data of lion movements in the Maasai Mara, gathered by KWT’s Mara Predator Conservation Programme.
Chuma Anagbado has created hardwood-etched portraits from the movements across the Mara ecosystem of three tracked lionesses and Daria Smakhtina has reinterpreted the same data into 3D digital sculptures. Visitors will be able to interact with the pieces physically as well as digitally such as through AR (augmented reality) on their smartphones.
Ultimately, the project intends to create awareness of the conservation work done by the KWT and SNI, and this afternoon there will be panel discussions by representatives from the various organisations involved as well as an opportunity to speak to predator researchers and community ambassadors who have come up from the Maasai Mara.
As we concluded our meeting with Adrian, a member of the SNI team suggested that he should change the pitch for 2024 to ‘From architecture to zoological art’.
More information on the various organisations can be found at www.nairobi.design, labs.sovereignnature.com and www.kenyawildlifetrust.org.
Entrance to Nairobi Design Week costs Sh100 for adults and Sh50 for under-18s. Parking space is limited, so travelling by taxi is encouraged. However, in partnership with ROAM, there will be an all-electric shuttle bus that will be travelling between the event and the main Karen Stage at the intersection of Langata and Ngong Roads.
Andreas is Managing Director at Mbweha Training and Trails.Email: [email protected]