This text was written to accompany Cyrus Kabiru's first South African exhibition. The exhibition was held at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town and was a huge commercial and critical success. Since this exhibition Kabiru has gone on to become an internationally recognised artist exhibiting all over the world.
‘When I make these glasses I am ‘Cyrus, the artist’ but when I wear them I am a different person.’
Kenyan based artist, Cyrus Kabiru, is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of Africa’s leading practitioners of Afrofuturism. The individualistic Kabiru creates intricately sculptural artworks from recycled materials 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 Mark Dery’s essay, ‘Black to the Future’ (1993) but that essay surveyed music, literature and art dating back to the early 1970s. As an aesthetic it 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 aspects has allowed the movement to often progress in playful and dramatic directions perfectly illustrated by 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 each of his glasses Kabiru embraces the transformative aspect of Afrofuturism and allows himself to become a ‘blank slate’ on which the ‘C-Stunners’ aid him to form unique identities. These straightfaced portraits cycle through a great variety of identities, sometimes gallant and accessible, sometimes sinister and sometimes even intimidating. These are portraits not just of Cyrus Kabiru but also of a new generation of African artist who demands face-to-face engagement.
Combined with Kabiru’s ‘C-Stunners’, for the first time are the ‘Black Mambas’. These fixed gear bicycles 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 modernity 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 constructions celebrating these bicycle’s form and (non)function.
It must be noted that while Afrofuturism is not a new aesthetic, strangely, it is a relatively new aesthetic for artists from the African continent. Within this context Kabiru’s extensive collection of work and playfully accessible exhibition can represent not just a homecoming for this striking aesthetic but also an illustration of the confidence and talent of a young African artist willing to commemorate his country’s past as well as plot its future.
1. Dery, M. (1994). Flame Wars. Durham: Duke University Press.