The Effect of the Location on the Art and the Artist

Sanaa Mtaani - Kunst in der Stadt

The Effect of the Location on the Art and the Artist

Thoughts on the Significance of the Context in which Art is produced and enjoyed

by Sabrina


Context or the Power of the Artist

It makes a difference where we work. The context is often the thing that gives work

its necessary zest - a child's drawing of a house with its garden may appear trivial to most people, but the child's background could make a difference: perhaps it is on the run and separated from its family. We add our knowledge to what we see. Depending on the subject, this could be political or geographical knowledge or personal concern (these things lead us back to ourselves, our day to day life). These connections reduce the artist's power. He may want to express something specific – what we ‘understand’ comes from a dialogue between the artist, the product, and the viewer. The artist puts something into the world; there it exists until it is appreciated.

GoDown Arts Centre

Subjective Perception – The Foreigner and Myself

The HOW we perceive is the observer's responsibility. Although, the way the HOW is perceived plays only a part and is thus controllable. We perceive how we learned to see. It follows a pattern: the things we know do not affect us as much as the things we do not know.

An example: Cars are waiting at a red traffic-light, pedestrians are crossing the road. We would notice if the traffic-light was blue instead of green, even if the traffic-light only played a small role. But because it is unusual, we would be pulled out of our usual state. The reaction of our focused attention will be stronger when the impulse intensifies; for example if an elephant stood between the cars or a mythical creature flew through the air. The more unusual, the more absurd the event, the greater is our interest, our focus on the current experience. These examples presume that the observer is in a normal situation in which an unusual event occurs.



Subjective Perception – I, the Foreigner

What happens the other way around? When the surroundings DO NOT present the usual? When I am the stranger, i.e. I see myself as the stranger? My awareness is present and supplied with the best possible consciousness. Unfiltered I record: people, smells, intersections, writings, traffic, body-language, speeds, and sounds. Because of the newness to me, I record nearly all impressions consciously – that's the reason why we become exhausted so quickly in strange surroundings, we try to orientate ourselves, there is a continuous comparison with familiar inner images. My constitution or my mood determines how I appreciate the known impressions when they appear. If I am looking for something completely different, then familiar images could disturb me (e.g. the current Coca-Cola logo). If I'm overwhelmed by the amount of impressions or if I do not feel well, the appearance of something familiar can provide an anchor and support.

At this point, one is referred to our Nairobi-impressions



Seeing Habits, Art and Context

When related to art, these expressions mean: what we have already seen produces an inner map in us in which we try to place the ‘new’. Art's reputation is to be as ‘original’ as possible. If it is ‘original’, it cannot be reproduced. We try to place what we observe into our map, although a work of art embodies the wish of the artist not to be categorized, because it is original. This contradiction is implicitly what we perceive in the work of art. Here, different contexts play a role. I divide them into a) my ego, b) my surroundings, c) the work's surroundings, d) the artist, and e) the artist's surroundings.


My ego:

My immediate personal constitution (I would react differently to strong colours if I had a headache), my personal preferences (What do I like? What do I know?), my educational background (in this case: How much does art interest me in general, and thus the artist in particular?)


My surroundings:

Do I feel good where I am? Do my surroundings allow me to concentrate on the artwork (noises, new smells, etc. taint the perception of the work)


The work:

Does the artwork have the environment it needs? White walls, light, silence... they all effect our perception.


The artist:

What was the artist's intention (in German, we have a saying “Was will uns der Künstler damit sagen?“ – “What does the artist want to tell us?”), what were the processes, his inner dialogue in the production process? What role does the artist's biography play?


The artist's surroundings:

Under which conditions is the work produced, to what extent is the environment itself a theme, to what extent is the context of the manufacturing process visible in the work: is it hidden, accented, or ignored?


From the differentiation it is clear how many different contexts there are and which influence they have on our perception. It is not an exhaustive list, rather a first attempt which can be further subdivided.



Nairobi: Us as Foreigners, the Metropolis and Art


‘We’ are seven students from all over Germany, from different fields of study, with different relations to art and Nairobi/Kenya/Eastern Africa. We need to reflect on our subjective view of the art which we found in Nairobi. It is only possible to understand our presentations about our experiences in our individual contexts. Thus, we selected a form for the interviews where the artist, if possible, is not influenced by us. Our subjective impressions are found in individual contributions on Nairobi. Combined, they represent the tinted ‘glasses’ through which our discussions on the impressions made by today's art in Nairobi are appreciated.

Whenever possible, in our interviews we asked about the effect of the surroundings on the creation of the artwork. We also asked the artists about the effects of the environment. The opinions differed. The painter and actress Jackie Karuti said: “Nairobi does influence me totally“, whereas Anthony Wanjou, a sculptor, implied that it made no difference where he worked – “No, I don´t think it is important to live here in Nairobi. (...) Nairobi does not influence me at all“. But he described how he allows bars and streets to inspire him while observing and studying people. The painter Dickson Kaloki works similarly: he walks through town and the slums to get the energy and mood needed to influence his working process. Nairobi does a lot for the owners of the Banana Hill Art Gallery, since the Kenyan art market is there. People interested in art come to Nairobi to deal, to view, and to buy. There is a concentration in Nairobi. This concentration, layering comes about through the people, the many possibilities, through the inspiration and the liveliness: “[…] It´s the energy. It´s the energy of Nairobi, it´s the people, it´s what people stand for, it´s what people do not stand for, it´s the ideals, it´s the chaos. Really. Because Nairobi is really not functional. I hate it most of the time, but I'm still here“, Jackie Karuti describes.


It is clear that the there are different views regarding the effect of the town on art. For us foreigners, the specialties of a town are clearly felt since they are new – and at the same, time our impressions are subject to our own views and are thus open and free. But the interplay of the individual view of the artist and our perception can perhaps come together in a first picture – the perceptions both from the ‘inside’ and from the ‘outside’ complement each other very well.

My personal assessment is that the context in which I work plays a very big part. Therefore, I recommend the reader of this catalogue to read and understand our contributions through our tinted glasses... this is possible by reading our contributions on Nairobi.


Einblicke in die gegenwärtige Kunst Nairobis.

Dieses Projekt wird gefördert durch die Stipendiatische Projektkommission der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung