Conversation with: Joy Mboya, Director of the GoDown Arts Center (KE); Avner de-Shalit, Professor at Hebrew University (IL); James Ogude, Professor at Witwatersrand University(SA) and Yvonne Rock, Mimeta (SE)
This conversation was the first in a series of seminars titled “Identity Talks” which is a part of the artistic research in the project Nairobi-Stockholm: City Evolution and Identity.
The conversation started with Joy Mboya asking why an arts centre is engaging itself in issues of the city. We sit in a city, and the city has an impact on what we do. The GoDown has an opportunity to develop its space and with that see that it shares its audience with the city. When developing its space, the GoDown saw a need to include different stakeholders. In this engagement with stakeholders the GoDown came to hear that the city belongs to everyone and no one. Cities are something we create, not something we find. How cities are formed, shaped and created is explored and how does this relate to the sense of belonging for the inhabitants of the city is explored.
Avner de-Shalit co-authored the book Spirit of Cities, and continued this conversation stating that cities shape and reflect the identity of the people which can be viewed politically. People have identities built on the self, who they are, their families, their faith/ heritage, work, education, etc.. Then people have national identities – I am Swedish, French, Kenyan, Israeli. Globalisation and integration of markets, migration, international agreements, institutions and regional integration such as the EU decreases differentiation of policy and autonomy of nations is decreasing. In practice nations cannot do so much alone or by themselves which undermines the unique national identity. Increasingly we see widening gap between the national and individual identities. In this gap or vacuum, cities are entering with their own identities. People want a particularity, want to be unique and have different identities. Cities could arguable be better suited to embrace the identities of people rather than nations.
Nairobi is approximately 100 years and since the past 50 years, Kenyans formally started to live there. James Ogude started to ask if we need and identity as identities create boarders. To James, cities sites are entanglements and with opportunities for transgressing or crossing of boarders. Walking in a city could be seen as a cultural act through layers of identities. The African cities are closely linked to the hinterland or rural areas where home is both in the city where you might live and the land of ancestors, with a constant flow of goods, people and ideas making the boundaries between cities and hinterland technical or mental constructions. Visiting sites of consumption – either open air marketplaces or sports grounds or night clubs – a multitude and diversity of identities come together in spaces. Understanding movement and rhythms of African cities thus become crucial in understanding identities of people and cities on the continent.