29.01.15 – 14.03.15
‘When I make these glasses I am Cyrus, the artist, but when I wear them I am a different person’
Cyrus Kabiru, 2015
C-Stunners & Black Mamba is Kenyan-based artist Cyrus Kabiru’s first solo exhibition in South Africa. Kabiru is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Africa’s leading names associated with Afrofuturism. Highly individualistic, Kabiru creates intricate sculptural artworks from recycled materials that he finds throughout his hometown of Nairobi. Through his use of found materials, Kabiru creates a dialogue between his life story and the thriving African city in which he lives, allowing him to assert his identity in the present as well as explore his dreams of the future.
While his artworks, and particularly his ‘afrodazzled’ glasses, named ‘C-Stunners’, are regarded as groundbreaking, Afrofuturism itself is not a new movement. The term can be traced back to the cultural critic Mark Dery’s essay Black to the Future (1993) that surveyed music, literature and art from the early 1970s. As an aesthetic, Afrofuturism draws influence from science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction as a way to interrogate both Africa’s history and its future, and traditionally has distinct performative and transformative aspects. These perspectives have allowed the movement to progress in playful and dramatic directions as illustrated by photographer Christina de Middel’s The Afronauts (a fictional commemoration of Zambia’s forgotten space programme) and American artist, Rammellzee’s suits of robotic battle armour.
By photographing himself wearing his glasses, Kabiru embraces this transformative aspect of Afrofuturism and allows himself to become a ‘blank slate’ on which the ‘C-Stunners’ aid him in forming unique identities. These straight-faced portraits cycle through a great variety of identities, sometimes gallant and accessible, sometimes sinister and sometimes even intimidating. These are portraits not just of Kabiru, but also of a new generation of African artists who demand face-to-face engagement.
The overlapping and combination of creative practices and influences (design, fashion, music, film and performance) by contemporary artists is a current trend that has been embraced and spearheaded by African artists in particular. Despite the fact that Kabiru is self-taught and uses found objects, in an intuitive and organic process, his art reflects the contemporary spirit and evokes the work of diverse artists such as Romauald Hazoume, Nick Cave and El Anatsui, to name a few.
This exhibition also combines, for the first time, Kabiru’s ‘C-Stunners’, with his ‘Black Mambas’. These are fixed gear bicycles that have achieved an iconic status in Kenya as, for many years, these vehicles were an affordable and popular method of transport for the Kenyan population. Yet as modernisation spreads through the African continent the ‘Black Mamba’ is being replaced by increasingly affordable scooters and motor cycles. In memory of these symbolic bicycles Kabiru has deconstructed the ‘Black Mamba’ and reimagined them as unique sculptural constructions celebrating the bicycle’s form and (non)function.
An innovative figure in Africa’s international presence, Cyrus Kabiru is included in Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design at the prestigious Vitra Design Museum in Germany, which opens in March 2015. Curated by Amelie Klein with Okwui Enwezor as a consulting curator, the exhibition aims to illustrate the correlation between art and design, and economic and political change, whilst showcasing the expertise of creative practitioners in Africa.
Cyrus Kabiru was born in 1984 in Nairobi, where he still lives and works. His first solo exhibition was in 2008 at the Wasanii Workshop in Kenya and he has subsequently exhibited in England, the USA, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Turkey, South Africa and in his home country. Notable exhibitions include Upcoming in 2010 at the Kuona Trust in Nairobi and Cyrus Kabiru at the Kunstpodium T Gallery in Holland in 2011. Kabiru was awarded the Best Artist Innovation award at the Maker Fair and was celebrated by Guiness Africa and MTVBase in 2012. In 2013, Kabiru was a fellow at TED’s The Young, the Gifted, the Undiscovered in the USA. That same year, Kabiru also exhibited at the Lagos Photo Festival in Nigeria and his work formed part of Afrofuture: Adventure with Makers, Thinkers and Dreamers at Milan Design Week, Milan, Italy.
View the artist’s page: Cyrus Kabiru