Making Art Work: Articulating Art and Urban Marginality in Kisumu, Kenya

Unseld, Frederik. Making Art Work: Articulating Art and Urban Marginality in Kisumu, Kenya. 2022, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: https://edoc.unibas.ch/90300/

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This dissertation offers an inquiry into the role and reach of artistic practices in Kisumu, Kenya’s 3rd-largest city, where young people have en masse embraced the way-of-the-artist. The thesis combines anthropology with urban studies, sociology, fine and performing art studies and literary studies and weaves the many little threads of how the artists “make meaning” into a larger fabric – that is, the city as a social and political space.
The dissertation is concerned with the ways in which art is made; with these ways and the practices they entail as alternatives to work construed as a salaried or regular endeavor; and with both the processes and the final products involved as building blocks of city life. The text uses the notion of Lebenskünstler as a nodal point, which, literally translated, stands for somebody who is a master in the art of living. In so doing, the thesis extends bridges between such key takes on city-making as are offered by urban sociologist AbdouMaliq Simone, literary and cultural studies theorists such as Sarah Nuttall and art historian Joanna Grabski.
The thesis follows five individual artists through their work and life world. It builds on a post-Marxist understanding of discursive articulation and highlights how the artists concerned develop different articulatory responses to the structural-violence they experience as a result of enduring mass unemployment and a systemic neglect on behalf of the powers that be. These artistic articulations take different forms and draw on various art genres ranging from ‘artivism’ to spoken word to fashion modelling, as well as various communicative and performative expressions that are part of social media culture. The doctoral research was carried out between 2015 and 2018 and the thesis addresses how artists reacted to the highly-contested general elections of 2017 and the country’s subsequent constitutional crisis.
Unseld’s account is neither silent on the violence that his protagonists experienced so often and that sometimes pushed them into criminal milieus, nor does it belittle their attempts to overcome the many hurdles that they had and still have to face. The thesis always recognizes that the portrayed artists are both authors of their life trajectories and victims of the circumstances that prevail in the urban neighborhoods that they inhabit. Using the device of portraiture, Unseld manages to write an account that is both balanced in its analytical propositions and a moving narrative about hope and despair in the city. The thesis opens up many important and timely questions about the multi-layered nature of the articulation between city-making and art-making, while simultaneously expanding our understanding of what the term “art” can reference in post-colonial life-worlds in the 21st century.
Advisors:Förster, Till and Malaquais, Dominique
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften > Ehemalige Einheiten Gesellschaftswissenschaften > Visuelle und politische Ethnologie (Förster)
UniBasel Contributors:Förster, Till
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:14842
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:213
Identification Number:
  • urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-bau-diss148423
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:25 Apr 2023 04:30
Deposited On:24 Apr 2023 15:21

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