Any one walking on the streets of Nairobi CBD may have come across life size lion sculptures and wondered what wild animals were doing in the capital city of a nation whose population–well, at least its political elites–is so hell-bent on destroying the ecosystem through illegal allocation of public land and forests like Karura and Mau. Once acquired, such land is turned into concrete jungles. And if one raises one’s voice against this rape of the environment, one is likely to be dismissed by comments like ‘What is so special about Karura Forest? Even Nairobi was once a forest before the trees were cleared away to pave way for the skyscrapers!” That was how Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s retired President, dismissed environmentalists when they voiced their concern over the destruction of Karura Forest.
Between September 2 and October 25, 2009, a free, public art display of 50 life size adult male lions dubbed Pride of Kenya Urban Safari, is displayed on the streets, at the Nairobi National Museum and August 7th Memorial Park, and in the shopping malls–Sarit Centre, Prestige Plaza, Village Market, ABC Place, Yaya Centre, T-Mall–with a view to encouraging society to support the conservation of lions in Kenya.
“The lions,” says Alice Owen of the Born Free Foundation, co-owners of the Pride of Kenya Urban Safari with Wild in Art, “are made of fibreglass and are normally decorated with paints and other materials and then finished to be weatherproof. Several of the lions will be sited in outdoor locations around the city and some will be located indoors but will still be freely accessible to the public, such as in a shop window. The lions measures approximately 185 cm long, 130 cm.”
Saying that this public art display turns the city wild and encourages “citizens and visitors to Nairobi to support the protection of Kenya’s magnificent wild lions,” Owen adds the sculptures will be “sold at a gala auction and the proceeds go to the Born Free Foundation for our lion conservation work.”
The Born Free Foundation may be commended not just for its conservation work but also for turning painters like Mary Collis, Patrick Mukabi, Kamal Shah, Dinesh Revankar and into sculptors But is their project, strictly speaking, art or craft? Other than for the colour that has been thrown on the sculptures, they are just images of one lion that has been mass-produced; only craft–not art– is produced in such a way. A casual look at the legs shows the right foot of each image stepping ahead. Uniformly.
It is also quite heart-warming to see some unprecedented corporate support to the project from organisations like Safaricom, Standard Chartered Bank, Kenya Commercial Bank, Kenya Wine Agencies, Nation Media Group, Eveready East Africa, Chandaria Industries, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Kenya Data Networks, and Bidco Oil Refineries.
Pix by Born Free Foundation