Khanga, a fabric very common across East Africa, came onto the scene fairly recently, according to some accounts, in the mid-19th century. Its existence is situated in the matrix of interaction between the coast of East Africa and the wider world via the Indian Ocean. This interaction has been in place for centuries prior to the khanga’s arrival. It predates the colonial occupation of the region and can be a starting point to venture further back in time beyond the colonial period and narrative, through the matrix of maritime trade that made its existence possible.
Over the past 100 years, khanga has evolved to become one of the central fabrics in the lives of East Africans. It carries memories and stories of the social, political, and economic life of the people of East Africa. Babies are born and carried with it, and it is often given as a gift at weddings. The inscriptions that come with it, initially in Arabic script and later in Roman script, carry messages - sayings and short proverbs - between loved ones, relatives, and neighbors. The inscriptions and motifs at times carry political messages, expressions of solidarity, or unite people around a common cause.
A series of images showing various inscription on the khanga
The images in this project invite reflection on the khanga fabric. Featuring figures dressed in khanga in various styles, the images evoke memories of countless moments of our lives where khanga was an integral part. During the shoot, individuals were free to interpret and wear the khanga as they wished, bringing their own experiences and imagination into the creative process. This approach highlights the versatility of khanga and its ability to meet individual needs within the context of social life. The fabric reflects its users, making them integral to the image-making process.
A series of Studio Portraits Taken at Nafasi Art Space 2019
People were invited to write sayings and proverbs, as well as to color in the drawn khanga pattern and as well draw their own pattern and color them, because each person bring their own interpretation of the fabric.
Memebers of the public taking part in coloring, writting proversbs, sayings, and poetry bringing their experience about khanga to the page
The inclusion of the public to take part in the various aspect of the khanga design, colouring, poetry or imagining the use of khanga was central to the idea of the project as this fabric, in its 100+ years of existence has been shaped and has evolved according to the needs, desire, politics of the people. Therefore the reflection of its role and imagination of its potential role could not be complete without the involvement of the people that bring a tiny bit of their story to the project, and thereby its final creation is beyond the singular voice, but a patchwork of the vision of the people reflected on their interaction with a piece of fabric which has been part of their lives, and will probably be there still when they are escorted in their final journey.
Drawings and text from the members of public during khanga inheritence event at Nafasi Art Space
To this end the project places an emphasis of capture the undercurrents: stories, beauties and imagination surrounding the piece of fabric that is whereby our part of our history, our presence, our fascination with poetry, and imagination to push further (to add sonething of our own ) to this canvas that is a khanga.