Resilient Cities

Nairobi: Art Disrupting Corruption

Kenya is well known internationally for its sandy beaches and wide‐open savannahs that attract foreign tourists every year. But behind the picture perfect postcard hides a bleak reality.

In 2007 politically motivated ethnic violence spread across the country following a contested election, leaving over one thousand people dead. These ethnic tensions still persist today. The country’s current government, led by the son of Kenya’s first president, is said to be one of the most corrupt in its history, with the country reportedly losing a third of its state budget to corruption every year.

In Nairobi, a city characterized by extremes of wealth and poverty, some artists are fed up of the status quo and are using their art to break through the stagnation that characterizes a political class, which has hardly changed since 1963. This episode follows Anjali Nayar, a Canadian filmmaker who has made Kenya her home; Godfrey Mwampembwa, a political satirist whose caricatures, published in the daily newspaper, poke fun at the excesses of the government; Muthoni Ndonga, a musician whose recently released single is a sharp indictment of corruption in the country; and Sylvester Barasa, a contemporary dancer with polio, determined to carve out a place for himself despite the absence of infrastructure and social support.
 

 

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Jakarta: Art Defying Moral Conservatism

Indonesia, where the national motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” or “Unity in Diversity,” is home to both the world’s largest Muslim majority as well as six additional religions. The country has had a difficult history under the 32-­year dictatorship of General Suharto whose repressive and corrupt militarized rule led to the deaths of hundred thousand.

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Chicago: Artists Fighting Segregation

Chicago is a city that ranks as one of the richest and most productive in the United States, yet it has a deeply segregated urban landscape and a high murder rate. In its south and west sides, impoverished housing blocks sit beside affluent homes, universities and city stadiums. The year 2016 was the city’s most violent in over two decades with a record of 762 homicides, an increase of 58 percent since 2015.

Karachi: Creating Art Amid Terror

Target killings, terrorist attacks and a skyrocketing crime rate: these are the words usually used to describe Pakistan’s megalopolis Karachi. And up until recently it was considered a lawless land, taken over by gangsters and terrorist groups like the Taliban who assassinated intellectuals and artists.

One of the most significant target killings was the assassination of Sabeen Mahmuud, a feminist and intellectual who founded T2F, one of the few spaces dedicated to creation in Karachi. The case of her assassination remains unsolved.

Warsaw: Art Fighting Ultranationalism

Since the democratic election of the Law and Justice Party in 2015, Poland is divided between liberals and ultra-­conservatives. The country is moving away from the orbit of Western Europe and returning to a past defined by family, church and home.

In some instances, it is also moving towards a future that echoes elements of its dark history. Antisemitism on the rise and a wave of ultranationalism is sweeping the country.

Beirut: Art As A New Narrative

Beirut is a battle-­scarred city that has survived military invasions and civil war. Currently it struggles with a Muslim and Christian divide, the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has Isis looming over their country’s northern border. Still, Beirut is considered the cultural hub of the Middle East. Reverberating with the sounds of musicians, performers and activists as well as hosting one of the best nightlife scenes in the world, Beirut is an enigma. 

Kiev: Art As Protest

In a city on the divide between Russia and Europe, the art of protest stands against war and corruption. Kiev has a government that ignores its citizens and responds to demonstrators with violent measures. Now, artists and activists are spearheading the fight to claim Ukrainian cultural identity.