16 ity, which means that to a great extent they make use of local resources and try to engage in dialogue with an existing building tradition in the given region. And it becomes even more specific to the place insofar as the future local users of the project are involved in the construction process such that the finished building matches the needs people have locally. At the same time the participants are trained in the maintenance of the project once the architects have left the arena. The socially grounded construction projects are not judged exclusively on ‘architectural’ (aesthetic, constructional) criteria, but must also be seen in the light of their capacity to add real value to a given reality. These projects are an investment in the future: they imply that the future can be changed – and the future is an absolutely central theme across the African continent. BUILDING FUTURES The Kenyan writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor said in an interview with another Kenyan writer, Benyavanga Wainaina, that she was incredibly tired of talking about Kenya’s potential, and thought it was time it was fulfilled.6 Owuor’s remark is interesting in this context, because it underscores one of the most telling questions asked in the continent: What will the future be like? Or perhaps rather: When will it arrive? In contemporary art one sees great interest in the issue, often expressed polemically in relation to the (in)ability of the current powers-that-be to make good decisions for the individual countries. African contemporary art’s exploration of potential futures CHALLENGING THE TALE OF WOE The standardized narrative of Africa, as mentioned initially, seems very much to be associated with the history of countries like Rwanda. For although Rwanda is one of the smallest nations in the African continent, the country looms large in people’s consciousness as a result of the abysmally macabre genocide of 1994. In that sense Rwanda is the Africa in our minds, replete with a horror hardly to be borne. The paradox is that Rwanda, twenty years on from this atrocity, is one of the best-functioning countries in the African continent, with a growing economy and a firm administration that will do anything to improve the nation. It is crucial to make room for a narrative from Rwanda in the exhibition, because this example stands so clearly in people’s minds, and the need for a counter image is all the greater. This is about reconciliation, education and a general strengthening of the social infrastructure through the erection of school buildings, kindergartens and other fundamental functional constructions. It is crucial to the aspirations of a country that it can change its image, and all the more so for a country that seemed so hopelessly cursed not so long ago. Socially rooted architecture must on the whole be described as one of the most outstanding architectural tendencies in sub-Saharan Africa: the building of schools, hospitals, children’s homes, women’s centres, religious institutions etc. The characteristical of several of these projects is that there is a high degree of local specificliving, sometimes with impeccable green building credentials and increasingly draped in smart city armatures. As African cities become more and more attractive landing pads for speculative international capital, there is a growing appetite for these ‘next generation’ real estate developments in evidence from Kinshasa to Lagos, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, and Luanda, among an ever-growing list”.5 The six cities have their own narratives of making ends meet, of impatient grasping at a flickering future, of youth culture and colonial legacy, of empowerment and state power, of art scenes and the film industry. Composite narratives that bring out the paradoxical conditions of life. MAKING SPACE As a dissection and examination of the different scenes of co-existence, the exhibition delves into a number of spatial typologies related to everyday practice across sub-Saharan Africa. When food is cooked, when sacrifices are made to the ancestors, or when the elders meet in council. These events are determinative of the form and function of the architecture, and they all take their point of departure beneath the tree, the simplest example of a space – the place where there are shade and shelter. This is where the relations among people – living and dead – begin. The functionality of the architecture is closely linked with co-existence and is quite fundamentally about how the spaces create a framework for a life together with others. Central to this is the balance between proximity and detachment: it is about being close to others while at the same time maintaining a functional distance. The theme juxtaposes fundamental spatial typologies with a number of new architectural projects that take their cue from regional building customs. Particularly striking is an installation by the architect Diébédo Francis Kéré. The inspiration comes from his own village, Gando in Burkina Faso, where he has identified the tree as a central element that provides shade from the sun and at the same time is an element that makes a space where people can gather. His contribution is thus a covering with highly informal seating arrangements beneath it where the visitors to the museum can gather, reflect and meet in an intimate setting. The installation underscores the power of architecture to contain cultural narratives, traditions and dreams.
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