New Media

  • Kamirithu Theatre: An Architecture for Decolonization
    Kenny Cupers, Makau Kitata & Chao Tayiana Maina
    Kenny Cupers, Makau Kitata & Chao Tayiana Maina

George Kabonyi, Kamirithu theatre, 1977. Photograph, 10 x 15 cm. Courtesy George Kabonyi

This multimedia project unearths the history of Kamirithu theatre—a powerful experiment in African decolonization whose significance is yet to be considered for the field of architecture. In 1976, local workers and peasants came together to build an open-air theatre and stage a play confronting the endurance of colonial injustices after independence. Yet their initiative was suppressed, and the government demolished the collectively built and managed open-air theatre. This project is the first to tell this story through the voices of its original actors and other community stakeholders in collaboration with African Digital Heritage and the local community organization Kamirithu CBO. It includes a digital oral and visual history archive, including a three-dimensional digital reconstruction of the open-air theatre and surroundings. Grounded in collaborative work and community engagement, this project substantively expands the epistemological basis of architectural discourse. As a result, an alternative architecture for decolonization can become visible.

Kenny Cupers is professor of architectural history and urban studies and head of the Urban Studies Division at the University of Basel, where he cofounded and leads the Critical Urbanisms program. He is committed to the development of the urban humanities through transformative pedagogy and public-facing research at the intersection of architectural history, urban studies, and critical geography. He has published widely on mass housing, architectural modernism, and planning history. Grounded in primary research, his scholarship analyzes spaces and landscapes in order to answer questions about power and historical change. His publications include What is Critical Urbanism? (Park Books, 2022); the award-winning The Social Project: Housing Postwar France (University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Coloniality of Infrastructure (e-Flux Architecture, 2021); Architecture and Neoliberalism from the 1960s to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020); Use Matters: An Alternative History of Architecture (Routledge, 2013); Spaces of Uncertainty (Müller und Busmann, 2002); and Spaces of Uncertainty: Berlin Revisited (Birkhäuser, 2018). His forthcoming book, The Earth That Modernism Built, is a historical account of architectural modernism that takes German colonialism as a starting point for tracing how land and life became objects of design. Cupers leads the SNF-funded project, How Infrastructure Shaped Territory in Africa, and codirects (with Orit Halpern and Claudia Mareis) the Sinergia project, Governing through Design: An Interdisciplinary Phenomenon. Through these collaborative projects, he is developing a research agenda on infrastructure as African worldmaking. In this context, Cupers is working with the Lamu Youth Alliance in Kenya to address social and environmental justice in Africa’s mega-infrastructure boom.

Makau Kitata is a lecturer in post-colonial literature and performance studies at the University of Nairobi, Kenya. His research works are on literature and geocultural studies. Focusing on narrative analysis and fieldwork primary data research, his works evaluate how the cultural practices of writing and artistic performances help in associating geocultural phenomena with values such as national identity, individual and community aspirations, and even environmentalism. He has published on postcolonial literature and performance studies. His publications include: “The Challenges of Naming in the Kenyan Fictional Narratives” (East African Literary and Cultural Studies, 2020); “Sexualizing the Dance, Objectifying the Performer: The Twerk Dance in Kenya” (Agenda: Empowering Women for Gender Equity, 2020); .“Re-narrating the Eastern Africa Coast through YouTube: Vitali Maembe’s Little Town Bagamoyo” (African Identities, 2021), and “Situating Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Theatre and its Afterlives,” in Routledge Handbook of Architecture, Urban Space and Politics (2023) is his first collaborative article with a scholar in architectural history and urban studies. He was engaged in research on Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s memoir, In the House of the Interpreter (Pantheon, 2012), and the intersection between literature and new approaches to mobility, transport, and infrastructure. He is also involved in producing Kamirithu, a documentary from the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s literary and theatre productions as well as the life narratives of individuals encountered from field research.

Chao Tayiana Maina is a Kenyan digital heritage specialist and digital humanities scholar working at the intersection of culture and technology. Her work primarily focuses on the application of technology in the preservation, engagement, and dissemination of African heritage. She holds a master’s degree with distinction in international heritage visualisation and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science. Her research work explored the possibilities of embedding intangible histories in 3-D digital environments. She is a recipient of the Google Anita Borg scholarship for women in technology. She is the founder of African Digital Heritage and cofounder of the Museum of British Colonialism where she leads digital engagement and is a cofounder of the Open Restitution Africa project.