Earlier this year, when Vanessa Kanaiza Onalo embarked on curating her exhibition, No shoes on my carpet – a homage to the beloved living room – she never considered digital as an explorative option.
Yet, when quarantine measures were globally introduced, she had no choice but to ironically incorporate the theme into action, and spin the envisioned space into a digital gallery that attendees could immerse themselves into with the help of 20 creatives inspired by home etiquette – from the comfort of their own.
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‘Growing up in Nairobi, the living room was a very significant part of my childhood,’ Kanaiza explains. ‘Moving to East London it maintained as such but with a different energy. When you move from one country to another, you pay attention to the way rooms make you feel. It’s forever embedded in personal narratives, so I wanted to look back to a particular time and celebrate the heart of the home.’
At the live screening, every segment brought forth a sense of teleportation into the cultures of Brazil, Nigeria, London, Kenya, and many more.
Life imitates art, and conversely, art imitates life, but for these four artists, comfort fuelled their ingenuity.
‘I focus on storytelling, and the emotion’ explained creative director Jedidah M, ‘I want people to look at my images or watch my videos, see the story and have an emotional response.’
Whereas her co-collaborator Aiden Harmitt-Williams strives to make his subjects act like themselves and ignore the pressures of being in front of a lens. ‘What concerns me the most when shooting has always been one thing: humanity.’ Shortly after speaking to both, it became clear why they unionised their artistic passion for embodying rawness – in yet another project – and jointly created a concept ahead of shooting actor Stephen Odubola.
Through the exhibition, Kanaiza shows how one room reflects in different worlds through the four pillars of art, culture, community and storytelling. Nigerian born, London-living photographer Aisha Seriki took a different tract when responding to the brief by using this opportunity to contrive scenarios she wished would have carried out in her front room.
‘Approaching this collaboration meant looking into childhood, which was a little triggering I won’t lie, but necessary. I shot in my auntie’s living room with my sister and friends and just played around. I wanted the images to represent the way I view the world – or at least, resemble an experience I wish was my own.’
Scents, textures and sounds have a well-known effect of evoking fond memories. Kenyan artist Rogers Ouma’s distance memory of furniture, cutlery, radio cassettes and a cupboard are the significant items channelled in his short film featuring two models that represent a mother and son relationship.
‘The African living room nostalgia was the main thing I hoped to achieve with my contribution,’ Ouma said. ‘The living room set up I had growing up is different from the one showcased in the film, but I can see the similarities in the wall unit, teapot, and the outfit ‘Mum’ is wearing in the rocking chair.’
Despite social and cultural differences, rooted by upbringing, when it comes to the Black living room experience, this virtual trip down memory lane perfectly illustrates a deep-rooted union in childhood. For some, it means excellence, discipline, comfort, togetherness. For others, ‘it’s an experience that can be summed up as constant growth, rooted in love.’