Cyrus Kabiru is a self-taught Kenyan artist who works in various mediums including painting and sculpture. He is best known for his Afrofuturism series, C-Stunners, an ongoing project consisting of elaborate eyeglasses that are imaginatively constructed out of found objects and recycled trash. These wearable sculptures, part fashion statement part social-political commentary, capture the sensibility and attitude of the youth generation in Nairobi. They portray the aspiration of popular culture bling and reflect the ingenuity and resourcefulness of people. The lenses are a metaphorical filter providing a fresh perspective of the world.
Cyrus Kabiru is one of the most exciting of the younger artists to have emerged from Nairobi over the last few years. Kabiru has just completed his first international exhibition at Kuntspodium T Gallery in Tilburg, Holland which included an installation of his signature ‘C Stunner glasses’ made from recycled materials, each with its own story and together creating a powerful metaphor around the way Africa is perceived by the outside world and vice versa.
Kabiru has been creating his 'spectacles’ since childhood when he started to produce toys for his age-mates as a way of bartering his way through school work. The origins of his attachment to glasses stem from his father’s neurosis about them (in turn caused by the fact that Cyrus’s grandfather punished his father severely when, as a boy, he lost a pair of glasses that the family had made great sacrifices to provide him with). It is a universal story of poverty and the struggle to overcome it. Cyrus’s father scarred by his father’s fury when his attempts to help his son with his eyesight came to nought. The father, still mired in poverty, instilling in his son, Cyrus, a bizarre reverence for the things that he himself lost through carelessness - the son responding to this creatively - by reproducing again and again, the object of his father’s pain and his grandfather’s hope. In so doing, creating a contemporary folk tale through finding fame and fortune through his 'glasses’ sufficient to lift him out of the poverty that his father and grandfather wished to overcome.
This is the psychological background to the C-Stunners series but the works are rich in social comment too. Each with its own story from glasses with bars that evoke the jails of Nairobi to those with spent bullets that tell their story of criminal or police brutality. Also a love for nature that fuels the artist’s desire to recycle as part of a process of protecting the environment.
Digging through electronic refuse and found metal in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, Cyrus Kabiru refashions
found materials into different wearable forms. Often these take the
form of flamboyantly composed glasses, large eyewear that can often mask
the entire face.
As a good example for the youth and also as an art teacher, you could have probably received government funding to support your project as cultural education. CK: No, our government is shit. They just believe in the people who are more educated, those who wear suits. (Laughs) Last month, I was with a Kenyan politician then I met a group of people who knew me, they began to shout “we know this guy!” The politician was upset with their reaction because he felt like they should know him rather than me. He should be the most popular one between us both. Politics in Kenya is bullshit. They always and only care for themselves as they drive around in big cars.
Are they supporting art at all? CK: We have the oldest politician, William Ole Ntimama, as the Minister of Art and Culture, and for him Kenyan art is only about the Maasai and traditional dances!
So, what are your designs made with? Where are you getting your materials from? CK: I just collect material from everywhere when I walk in the streets of Nairobi. First, I love nature and that’s the reason I work with recycled material. I want people to know how to give trash a second chance.
The C stunners project caught my eye. I could clearly imagine it on a runway, in a movie or in a dance piece. Why C stunners? CK:(Laugh) C stands for my name or to see. The stunners is of course because they are stunning!