Art to change how open spaces are used
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ONE of the activities that will be frequently used during the just-started “Nafacity” project, over a 12-month period, are workshops, such as this one, by the London architect and artist, Alida Bata (facing the camera), based on design. (File photo)

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TO say that the UK-based architect and artist, Alida Bata, recently came to Dar es Salaam solely for pleasure, would be distorting the facts. She had come on official duty, representing a group of working artists, across four cities in East Africa and the United Kingdom.

It had just been announced that they had won the support of the British Council’s East africa arts new Arts new Audiences (nAnA) project 2017. This would enable them to develop a programme called, “Nafacity” over a 12-month period.

While here, Alida had teamed-up with the projects’ Coordinator, Farid Mbiti, who is the Nafacity Studio East Africa Regional Manager, to officially accept this support on behalf of all the artists.

She told the ‘Daily News’ that Nafacity can be seen as innovation in the public realm, which is a new art project that brings together artists from these five cities, to design places for innovation in four East African cities, Addis Ababa, Kigali, Stone Town-Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam.

“Amongst the rolling hills of Kigali, the vibrancy of Dar es Salaam, the historic coastal Stone Town and the polarised Addis Ababa, the artists will explore the local and global needs of space, comparing to global cities, with a particular focus on London,” she explained, all be it rather poetically.

The team of artists intend investigating the tensions between “competing functions and differing approaches to shared spaces”, together with exploring what spaces in cities mean to their inhabitants and change some “misperceptions” held of city spaces.

The intention is to design places and revive public realm to become opportunities for collaboration, sharing and innovation. According to Alida the project brings together ideas from the “Nafacity artists of carpentry, local material designs, digital fabrication and architecture, together with urban design.

The artists will be working together to design and build the public realm, each bringing a special skill set. Their art will explore the design of physical, virtual and social components in inspiring innovation”.

“We’re looking at Art in architecture, craft, digital fabrications, many different disciplines across the Art field, to create something new in public spaces. The art will be activated and inhabited by events and installed in each of the cities its design comes from next year.

Each installation will be unique, adapted for the specific city and site,” Alida said. In addition, there’ll be a travelling interactive exhibition, to be presented the two parts of the project together.

It is hoped that this will show the wealth of ideas explored, recordings of the installation and the evolution of the project. The exhibition will be curated by the artists themselves and bring together the different cities and sites across the UK and East Africa.

“It aims to inspire an approach to innovation and knowledge in any city,” she maintains. Apart from Alida, other collaborators are Anne Kamugisha, Rizwan Janmohammed, and Alzeena Bata, who are in a wider collaboration with artists from across Addis Ababa, Kigali, Dar es Salaam and London.

At this stage of the conversation Mbiti chipped in to say by the last quarter of the project, around next July, installations should start being seen within these cities. Currently, the artists are getting into learning a little about each other’s craft, collaborate so as to understand their different perspective on public space and different materials.

Then they will be starting working together to develop ideas, explore the cities and learn about these environments. Bearing in mind that each of these cities are different, specific things have to be made.

There also has to be collaborations with experts from around the world, who are “very good” at understanding public space, Mbiti maintains. These people, he says know how individuals work and interact and innovation created in public space, before the actual installations are installed.

“We intend activating the different installations in the var ious cities with different activities such as music, food in the created space. So, where a person might normally go through every single day, they’ll see something completely different each time they pass. What we’re aiming to do is change the way people use and see their city,” he said.

Such activities, Alida introduced, would be followed with an interactive exhibition, from various pieces used in the installations to move from city to city. Although all the cities are different, she says the concept of public space and how people interact are very similar.

Therefore, they have to find a way to deliver something in public space that will be very specific for a context but also generic in the sense that it deals with people and interaction.

According to the British Council’s East Africa Arts Manager, Aliko Mwakanjuki, they received 210 applicants this year for the annul open call for Art forms. That is, he explained, dance, music, poetry and all other Art forms.

The money, GBP 27,552, given to the winner, is to help them produce the art works they wrote in their proposal, which has to take note of the element of “nAnA”.

The basis of coming-up with a way of creating recreation spaces within cities Mbiti said comes from the observation that city dwellers, especially youngsters, need more opportunities to physically be together in open spaces.

Their idea, he explains is based on addressing the need of creating public spaces where people can be together. Bringing people together in such places, he maintains would generate more constructive ideas and relationships between all who occupy them.

They would like to see people, even when using such modern technology, as their mobile phones, to interact on the social media, sharing the same space. These artists are not saying not to use one’s phone but simply suggesting using it in a place where one can connect with the people around as well.

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