As the Kenyan sky darkened on a cool spring evening, two sources of light illuminated the manicured lawns and stone walkways of the oasis that is the Eden Nairobi, a hotel that sits discreetly on a street lined with lush estates. The first was the silver streams of light emitted by a waning moon; the second was a winding string of pearly white car headlights lined up at the gates of the property.
One by one, the Kenyans draped in colorful shawls, high heels and crisp white shirts made their way through the sparse forest of the property to a large patio. Champagne glasses clinked between appetizers as laughter rang out. At the front of the space, 25-year-old artist Margaret Njeri Ngigi unveiled a recent photograph, depicting a woman wearing a headscarf against a hazy blue background.
Elsewhere at the party, there was talk of up-and-coming artist Peter Elungat, whose secret dreamlike and abstract figurative paintings have been exhibited at One off Contemporary Art Gallery and GravitArt Gallery in Nairobi. Supermodel Dorothy Oliech, who recently sent a handful of her talents to Paris Fashion Week, garnered adoration from others while donning a gorgeous silk trench coat made by Kenyan fashion designer Sevaria. Two other Nairobi-based designers, Katungulu Mwendwa, who makes beautiful, ethically-made clothes, and Ami Doshi Shah, known for her sculptural accessories, were also spotted mingling. Examples of both of their works are currently on display at the V+A Africa Fashion Exhibition in South Kensington. Artist Wambui Kamiru, best known for her large art installations which have been shown at the Biennale, Poland and the Trapholt Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, admired the gallery wall of paintings and sculptures while the young writer Semhar McKnight was seen nearby.
Anna Trzebinski, the mastermind behind Eden Nairobi and a key player in the city’s social and creative scenes, is easily recognizable through the crowd with her radiant red hair. If there was a Mrs. Astor from Kenya, this honor would be bestowed on her. After completing the hotel in early 2021, Trzebinski considered ways to expand his focus. “I knew I didn’t want it to be just my head on the beds,” she told me. During the pandemic lockdown, she had many personal conversations that touched on questions such as, “Why do Kenyans need external validation” and “Who are we as a country? »
Since then, Eden Nairobi has become a central hub for the creative community. Alongside other Kenyan creators, such as the team behind an innovative artist residency, a textile producer bringing to life Kenya’s strong history in the field, and designers championing local artisans, the hotel opens the way as the city defines its artistic identity. .
How is the local creative scene different from, say, New York, London or Milan? “It’s rooted in the process. And we don’t insist on this need for production”, explains Kibe Wangunyu, a videographer who directs the Untethered Magic residency with artists Syowia Kyambi and Dennis Kiberu. “Artists come here to learn and unlearn. The space encourages residents to think critically about their practice without the pressure of hosting an exhibition or donating works for one afterwards. »
Among the winding paths that connect the studio spaces outlined by dry brushes, Kyambi, Kiberu and Wangunya hope to create not just an artistic opportunity, but a safe space where these difficult subjects can be discussed and dismantled. “Art is a way to approach these things, and shouldn’t be forced by this Western demand for production,” notes Kyambi.
“It’s a house, not an institution,” says Kyambi. “And, the property is designed that way. People can live with each other and chat without being on top of each other like other contemporary residences that pile you in one building. The goal is to build something lasting.
This desire to foster a community that benefits Kenyans in more ways than one is also reflected in the local fashion industry. As the mainstream fashion world seeks ways to design more responsibly, Kenyans are tapping into their own talent and heritage, finding lasting solutions along the way.
“I was surprised to learn that a country like Kenya, rich in artisans spread all over the country, does not have many original textiles,” says Gladys Macharia, co-founder of the textile and accessories company for the Siafu house. House. “Historically, Kenya was a leader in history, almost in line with Singapore.”
Today, Macharia trains artisans to create handwoven textiles that are made into cushions, towels, and more. Recently, major international fashion brands have started asking for samples. “I think designers appreciate slow, handmade craftsmanship, especially now that the world is moving so fast,” Macharia tells me.
But it’s not just about creating beautiful patterns. It’s about forging a national identity: “Locally skilled craftsmen and craftsmen keep the trades of the past alive because they preserve the knowledge and art of craftsmanship,” notes Rushina Shah, founder of the line of Ra by Rushina clothing, homeware and jewelry. Like Macharia, Shah works with local artisans; she also co-manages the Eden Nairobi boutique.
“As a country that was not considered a pioneer in the fashion industry, yet served as an inspiration for the show, we are looking for master craftsmen to help bring our collections to life,” says Shah. “We want to evoke a sense of culture through each piece, deeply rooted in its place of origin.”
In Kenya, fashion brands often oscillate between traditional and modern. Trzebinski’s line exemplifies this by using sleek silhouettes adorned with natural materials like feathers and genuine leather. Sevaria, on the other hand, taps into avant-garde aesthetics.
Back at the Eden Nairobi party, Trzebinski sticks around as the evening’s conversations die down and the guests – designers, artists, photographers, intellectuals, writers, movers and shakers – slowly return home. Shared ideas, shared drinks and shared memories still linger in the air. Art in Kenya is much more than the creation of beautiful objects. “The talent at all levels is exploding and exploring so many different mediums and forms,” Trzebinski tells me. “They are absolutely unafraid of sticking to the country’s strong identity and DNA rather than conforming to the outside world.”
Nairobi address book
The River Cafe is a tranquil experience for the eyes and a delight for the taste buds. They serve delicious cafe dishes, like colorful salads and well-packed steaks, but their butternut squash soup reigns supreme.
Bridges Organic Restaurant proves that the best local fare doesn’t need a white tablecloth. Here you will find authentic Kenyan dishes prepared with organically grown produce and meats.
Eden Nairobi is nothing short of an oasis, with artwork covering the walls of every room. For more privacy, opt for a duplex apartment.
For luxury-minded travelers with a sense of adventure, Lengishu offers rustic-chic rooms with Borana Game Reserve views, an infinity pool, game drives, and rhino tracking. Dinners and downtime take place in a large central room. The best way to book the lodge is through The Luxury Safari Company.
Ra by Rushina is the place to go for home accessories, linen clothing and shiny brass jewelry galore.
Sevaria offers contemporary clothing tinted with avant-garde. Think two-tone trench coats, embroidered party dresses and jackets with swishy beads.