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Contours East Africa Multi-discipline

MATZA Edgelands Nairobi: Digital Informalitites

MATZA Edgelands Nairobi

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MATZA Edgelands is a four-year initiative conceived by MATZA in close collaboration with the Edgelands Institute that will take place successively in the cities of Medellin and Cucuta (Colombia), Nairobi (Kenya), Geneva (Switzerland), Chicago (USA), Singapore and Beirut (Lebanon) between 2021 and 2025. The initiative seeks to develop a common working methodology fuelled by both the scientific rigour of the academic world and the forward-looking and creative nature of art. The initiative focuses on today’s large urban centres as new places of power and the issues of security and democracy that run through them. By seeking to build bridges and putting these seven cities in dialogue, MATZA Edgelands wishes to explore the renewed forms of social contract that are emerging today, particularly by focusing on the margins of cities and their informal spaces.

Following the first two editions of MATZA Edgelands in Medellin in January 2022 and Cucuta in July 2022, the project now moves to Nairobi. From 23 January to 10 February 2023, a team of 8 international artists and architects – Lawrence Shabu Mwangi, Joan Otieno, Ngugi Waweru, Wanjiru Ngure and Nabalayo Wattimah from Kenya, Mounir Ayoub and Flurina Rothenberger from Switzerland, and Ronald Pizzoferrato from Venezuela – will undertake 19 days of immersion, work and investigation in the city with a specific focus on the area of Mukuru Lunga-Lunga in close collaboration with the Wajukuu Art Project. The outcome of the project will be an outdoor exhibition opening on 10 February of photographs and videos by the artists printed or projected onto large billboards in public spaces in Mukuru Lunga-Lunga.

Nairobi has been selected for its specific and central location in East Africa but also for its economic growth as a creative and dynamic hub in Africa and its fast-changing demographic and urban development. In this particular context, the project focus “Digital Informalities” will explore how informalities have developed in the city and how digitalisation has given shape to new forms of organisation, work or reciprocities.

The project is curated by Séverin Guelpa and Anja Wyden Guelpa of MATZA in close collaboration with the Edgelands Institute. The project statement provides insight into the focus of this edition and the questions that will inform the artists’ investigations and work:

“In a globalised world in full upheaval which faces massive demographic flows and deep social inequalities, security has become a central issue. Mass urbanisation puts pressure on large urban centres and reveals growing social and spatial imbalances, accelerated by the difficulties cities face to adapt and integrate informal areas. When digital surveillance is perceived as a tool of protection for some, it may appear as a way of exclusion and repression for others. Insecurity and digital surveillance therefor deeply affect our social contract, our trust in the state, interpersonal relations and the rights of each individual. In a climate that is increasingly marked by fear and mistrust, many people believe that a choice has to be made between security and freedom, considering that the increase of one necessarily leads to the decrease of the other. In view of this polarised and antagonistic context, MATZA wants to consider this question through a range of perspectives and seek to explore how trust and new forms of social contract emerge among the complex layers of cities and their informal development. In order to explore the way our social contract adapts to the digital world that we live in, MATZA Edgelands reframes and retro-engineers to ask: What does a community need in order to live in a culture of trust and belonging? What does each individual needs to thrive and feel safe and free? How does digitalisation and the tools that go with it improve the living conditions of its population?”


Lawrence Shabu Mwangi began practicing art in 2003. He lives and works in Mukuru informal settlement where he established the Wajukuu Art Project in 2013 with a deep conviction to use art to improve the lives of young people in his community. Shabu is deeply concerned by the inequality and lack of empathy in society for people with different social, political, ethnic and religious beliefs, and his work seeks to examine human behaviour and collective amnesia.

Joan Otieno is a Kenyan artist currently living in the Lucky Summer estate of Nairobi and works from her studio which is located in the slums of Korogocho. Joan works with recycled materials that she collects and turns these into two- and three-dimensional artworks, installations and functional outfits that are worn on runways, street exhibitions and photo shoots. Living in an environment full of what people call waste, she feels stuck with a responsibility to give this material second chance and spark conversations about waste.

Nabalayo Wattimah is a Nairobi-based producer, singer-songwriter and performer; channelling indigenous Kenyan ancestral energies to create electronic music. Her music blends ethereal soundscapes and rich local folk idioms with light airy vocals in order to transport her audience to other realms of existence. Her artistic practice is driven by the values of storytelling, archiving and showcasing the beauty of diversity.
She pioneers the Changanya style of music, a neo traditional Kenyan electronic music that aims to honour the memories of those who came before while exploring new modern ideas.

Ngugi Waweru is a self-taught multimedia artist who was born in Nakuru and grew up in Nairobi. He started experimenting with after observing his friends making art.  Ngugi is one of the founders of Wajukuu Arts. He is influenced by the things he sees and encounters on a daily basis. In his art, Ngugi draws attention to the importance of human connection as a source of healing. The two key elements of his paintings – stitching and a rough texture – symbolise struggle and innate strength to conquer insurmountable odds in life.

Wanjiru Ngure aka [M] / [MONRHEA] is a Kenyan artist working across production, sound design, creative coding, DJing and tutoring in the realms of bass, techno, underground hip-hop and experimental music. Notable engagements in the previous year involve learning teaching approaches through the Train the Tutor programme for aspiring music teachers led by Santuri Electronic Music Academy (SEMA) and guest tutoring at SEMA on experimentation approaches for the beginner and intermediate cohorts. She is herself an alumni of the SEMA Advance cohort (2022). Wanjiru participated as a guest reviewer of applications for the Hydra video coding synth microgrants fund and held a three-month residency as a DJ at The MIST, a space that prioritizes experimentation and exploration. She also actively spearheads initiatives under The Rhealistic Collective such as TCHNO, a platform for education and exploration surrounding the techno sound, and BYTE, a platform spreading the world of music coding through Sonic Pi.

Flurina Rothenberger is a Swiss photographer/artist raised in Côte d’Ivoire and based in Abidjan and Zurich. Her work draws on photography and writing, combining a research-based approach with highly collaborative projects in the form of books, zines, installations and workshops. She is a lecturer in the Faculty of Advanced Studies in Photography in Vevey, and a programme manager at Artlink. She co-founded NICE, a publishing project and space for knowledge exchange and mutual learning. For each new issue, young creatives from different fields of activity join together in an African city to form an editorial collective. Together they discuss topics, perspectives and experiences, translate their ideas in the form of words and visuals and, accompanied by mentors, implement the publication process as a collaborative effort. For Artlink, Flurina developed and manages Turntables, an online directory and place for actors across the fields of art and culture to showcase their work, share skills and network. Her third book with Edition Patrick Frey is a tribute to the life’s work of the Ivorian-Burkinabé fashion designer and cultural activist Pathé’O and will be published in 2023.

Mounir Ayoub is a Tunisian architect, journalist and architecture critic. He founded the Laboratoire d’architecture (LA) that works on architectural and landscape projects, territorial studies, as well as editorial and curatorial projects throughout Europe, the Arab world and the Indian Ocean region. In 2021, they were the curators of the Swiss Pavilion at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale. He is also a regular contributor to several architectural magazines. Realised amidst the pandemic, the project “oræ – experiences on the border” (2018-21) was a collaborative process engaging hundreds of inhabitants on the border in plastic and political experiments on their representation of their territories. At the heart of a Europe which saw all of its borders suddenly closing down, a truck transformed into a mobile-workshop and forum, criss-crossed the borders between Switzerland and its neighbouring countries to meet its inhabitants. In the Arab world, the collective project “Rihla – Looking at the Arab Word” (2022-) is a long explorative journey into the contemporary Arab ordinary dwellings. It is a continuation of the rihla, a term signifying both a journey and an Arabic literary genre combining narrative art and scientific knowledge. Finally, the pedagogic project “Welcome in Nomadland” (2022-) sees architecture from the perspective of the nomad worlds by working directly with the inhabitants as they see their real or dreamt homes.

Ronald Pizzoferrato is a Venezuelan visual artist and photographer, resident in Bern, Switzerland since 2014. His works are the result of prolonged design-ethnographic research with a visual focus. Ronald documents and investigates social phenomena and conflicts in his native country. Additionally, he works on international projects related to identity, migration, violence, and decolonisation.

Séverin Guelpa is an artist and curator who mainly works on site-specific projects. His large-scale installations regularly combines building materials, construction techniques and raw materials to question social and environmental issues. Séverin’s work has been exhibited in many countries and he regularly give workshops and lectures in art schools and universities. He is currently associated researcher at EDHEA art school in Switzerland. He holds a degree in political science from Geneva University and a masters from HEAD-Geneva. Séverin is the founder and art curator of MATZA. He has led MATZA initiatives in different locations over the world since 2014 such as MATZA Amboy in the Mojave desert in the USA (2014 – 2017), MATZA Aletsch in the Swiss alps (2016-2018), MATZA Kerkennah in Tunisia (2017), SUPERSTRUCTURE in Geneva (2019) and BIVOUAC in Lausanne (2021).

Anja Wyden Guelpa has more than 20 years’ experience in key management positions both in the private and in the public sector and as Chancellor of the Canton of Geneva. In 2019, she
initiated the first national innovation incubator for the public sector civicChallenge – Public Innovator for Switzerland. She is interested in people, and divides her time between her company and think tank civicLab, several board memberships, philanthropic commitments, coaching CEOs and teaching innovation methods at the University of Lausanne.


MATZA is a project-manifesto that aims to use art to address current social and environmental issues. It is based on the principles of collective dynamics and immersion in emblematic territories. MATZA was founded by Swiss artist Séverin Guelpa in 2014.

The EDGELANDS Institute is a multi-disciplinary organization based in Geneva (Switzerland) and incubated at Harvard University (USA). It uses academic research, data, and art to explore how the digitalisation of urban security is changing the urban social contract. The organisation creates pop-up spaces that bring citizens, policymakers, academics, and other stakeholders into dialogue about the way that digital tools are being used by city governments and transforming urban social fabric.

Wajukuu Art Project is a community-based organisation situated in the Lunga-Lunga neighbourhood of the Mukuru informal settlement in Nairobi. The project was established in 2004 by a group of artists with a common goal: to make Mukuru a place where children can thrive and to create employment through the production and sale of quality artworks. Through art classes, Wajukuu empowers children and youth to cope with daily challenges, and speak out against injustices.