Picturing the Future in Nairobi

For two consecutive days in April 2022, youth participants between 11 and 13 years old came to the Nairobi National Museum from Hollywave Group and Eastlands Centre Boys Club, two community organisations that serve Mukuru Lunga Lunga, one of Nairobi’s largest informal settlements where approximately 400,000 people live.

We began with a discussion about climate change, why it’s happening and what we can do to address the climate crisis and mitigate its effects. Then we asked the young artists about their hopes for the future. What do they want the world they will inherit to look like?

John Silver, one of Kenya’s best known printmakers, has been providing art education opportunities to youth in Nairobi’s informal settlements for years. After our discussion about climate change, John taught the young artists how to carve a design into a wood panel in stages with successive applications of ink to create a picture. 

After John’s demonstration, the young artists spent the next two days making their own woodcut prints to portray their perspectives on the climate emergency and visualise their hopes for the future. Although youth have contributed the least to creating the world’s current climate crisis, they are the ones most affected by it. Through making art, the youth reflected on their own experiences with climate change and imagined a more sustainable future for the planet they are inheriting. 

Whilst working on our woodcut prints, we enjoyed tea breaks and lunch together each day. Working and sharing food together created a sense of community as we chatted about our art making, our experiences of climate change and more mundane topics of daily life, such as what kind of music we like and favourite foods. The Hollywave girls performed dances that their director, Victor, had choreographed for them. They chose Afropop music for its rhythmic beats and empowering messages. The Hollywavers also recited a poem they had written about their experiences making art at the National Museum of Kenya expressing how meaningful it was for them to work in this space.  

The week after the workshops, an exhibition of the prints created by the young artists opened at the museum.  Family members and friends were invited to the opening reception, and the exhibition was on display for several weeks so many visitors were able to see the artworks. The prints then traveled to Norway where they were displayed from 9 March - 10 April 2023 in an exhibition at the Norsk Teknisk Museum along with prints made by young artists in Oslo.