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[ inspire d by Turkana ]



[ inspire d by Turkana ] Este proyecto está dedicado a mi sobrino Daniel, quien nacerá en el día de la inauguración de la exposición. Desde lejos te recibo con un abrazo infinito.

This catalogue was published on the occasion of the exhibition Transient [inspired by Turkana] by Josefina Muñoz, at the Nairobi National Museum. May 1 - June 2, 2014 Not all the works in the exhibition are represented in this catalogue. Front cover image: Movables, 2014, mixed media installation, variable measurements Back cover image: From the Temporary Structures Series, 2014, digital print on watercolor paper, 55x76cm, © Joel Lukhovi

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, or information storage retrieval, without permission in writing form from the author. Copyright © Josefina Muñoz 2014

Contact: josefinamunoz@gmail.com www.josefinamunoz.net

The present research, creation, and exhibition project has been developed in collaboration with the following institutions:

What was firm has fled, and only the transitory remains and lasts. Francisco de Quevedo

Turkana woman carrying branches to build boma, 2013


How do you perceive space in the absence of built constructions? How can a living unit be defined without permanent architectural demarcations? How is the notion of homeplace understood when inhabiting portable temporary structures? Trying to answer these questions, Josefina Muñoz, Chilean mixed-media artist, travelled to the Ilemi Triangle (disputed land between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan) to live and learn from the Turkana nomads. Josefina was in the desert for over two months and experienced the complexity of nomadic pastoralist life. As she walked and migrated with the Turkana through the Lorionotom and Lokwanamoru Mountains, she paid special attention to the transiency of nomadic living space. Josefina’s previous work had always been tightly influenced by architecture, thus she aimed to challenge her creative practice by being subjected to a context deprived from its built constrains. “I went to Turkana urged by my spatial concerns. Nevertheless, as I got to understand the remarkable symbiotic relationship between the people and the land, I became cognizant of how my Western understanding of architecture was not applicable to nomadic life. All home activities are done in direct relation to the floor, in the open space: You cook on the floor, you sleep on the floor, you work on the floor. The idea of private is nonexistent, and the notion of permanence is illusory,” the artist comments. After her field research, Muñoz was invited to participate in three one-month Artist in Residence Programs. Kuona Trust (Nairobi), Nafasi Art Space (Dar es Salaam), and Tafaria Foundation (Aberdare Range) partnered with the artist in this multi-city project, enabling Josefina to develop a body of work driven by her experience in Turkana. Transience [inspired by Turkana] showcases a selection of drawings, photography, light boxes, and installation work depicting the notion of impermanence. Through the usage of diverse media and processes, Muñoz explores the idea of private space, ownership, and mobility, highlighting at the same time the splendor of one of Kenya’s most secluded cultures.

Turkana woman building akai, 2013


We are transient; everything we do is meant to be transient too and we know it, perhaps with two exceptions: art and home. Artists have tried for ages –from cave paintings to video installations, through representation or allegory– to grab and give permanence to what otherwise is fleeting, while cultures all over the world have built structures supposed to last longer than their inhabitants. Muñoz’s exhibit problematizes both art and home precarious permanencies. In Western contemporary societies the illusion of a home of one’s own is still the main dream behind hard work and the origin of the last economic crisis with global consequences. Its paradox comes from the rigidness of the idea of real estate and belonging to just one unmovable place, when everything else in our fast societies is constantly changing: the traffic of goods –programmed to be soon obsolete–, money, private and collective ownership and even human relationships throughout the social axis of what we understand and accept as gender and family, for instance. We see old buildings being destroyed and renewed all the time, we see that houses are temporary constructions; we inhabit them shortly and yet assume ourselves to be sedentary, as opposed to the Turkana. The materials in Muñoz’s works are fragile and not built to last, in symbiosis with the nomadic references. She stands out for her glass art, and now strikes with sticks and drawings determined by the environment and weather. Women build the Turkana houses; Muñoz resembles them and her pieces are not hermetic, which means the person is never totally inside or outside the sculpture, but in both places at a time. So what may seem a cell is also an open field where the light gets in and remains. A house can be a thing. A home is more ethereal. And once left behind, it is very difficult to really belong to a new place or to come back and feel in the former as though it was never left. Movement itself generates statelessness. Is not the artist herself a Nomad? Which is her home? A place where we can always find her, a mail or social network account that can be managed from anywhere, portable pieces of art? After traveling much, places appear similar to each other and individuals make the only difference. People moving to where they can find enough of the grass they need or in the case of a few luckier, the grass they want. Traveling with less. Transient is not a journey to the past but to the future of what we understand as home. Thanks to the Turkana. Enrique Winter New York, USA

From the Temporary Structures Series, 2014 digital print on watercolor paper 50x50cm Š Tahir Carl Karmali


When Josefina went to the Ilemi Triangle to re-think her understanding of architecture and space, she may not have bargained for the extent to which the concept of permanence was absent among the Turkana people. But since what initially drew the artist to this project was the particular aesthetics of Turkana constructions, she proceeded with her research creating a thought-provoking body of work. The title Transient [inspired by Turkana] is a perfect fit for Muñoz’s exhibition as she takes us through an artistic discourse on transitory boundaries. Transient [inspired by Turkana] is a brilliant exhibition that brings art and anthropology together allowing us to visualize research in a way palatable for the general public. There is no better place to hold this exhibition than at the Nairobi National Museum, home to some of the most celebrated heritage collections of Kenya and the East African region including the Turkana Boy, the most complete prehistoric human skeleton ever found. Having had the experience of living and working in Turkana, I admire Muñoz’s eclectic approach in choice of medium to bring out the various variables of life and the environment of the area. With evidence of man’s earliest settlement having been found in Turkana, it is interesting to see how Muñoz examines the minimalist concepts of private space, ownership, and mobility in today’s Turkana. Josefina’s work takes us on a mental journey of simplicity and complexity all at the same time. Whether intended or not, Muñoz’s selection of expression in the last part of the exhibition, Movables, seems to crown the project. The poetic image of Turkana women transporting the box against an inspiring background suggested by light effect is not only a making of the artist but a true representation of how one observes life in the vast scenic lands of Turkana. Poetic and beautiful against all odds. Lydia Gatundu Galavu Curator for Contemporary Art National Museums of Kenya Nairobi, Kenya

Artist in Residence studio at Nafasi Art Space. Door paintings by Josefina Muñoz. “Josefina created her metal boxes series Movables at Nafasi Art Space. It is noteworthy to comment that the studio she worked from is a large variant of those boxes, a metal sea container, the enlarged variant for the global nomad.” Jan Van Esch


Josefina came to Nafasi Art Space as part of our Artist in Residence Program. In her first artist presentation - after her stay with the Turkana and her residency at Kuona Trust in Nairobi - she impressed us all by her eloquent questioning of her topic of interest, and even so more in the following weeks through her research process and the creation of her art work. With my own first Masters in Anthropology, I recognized a fellow social scientist. Her research method came straight out of the textbook; a participant observer pur sang. Her only difference from the conventional social scientist was her research question; not a straight social question, but an entrance into society via her interest in architecture and space. As reading into her work, I can affirm that this anthropological unconventional entrance does finally result in a profound understanding of the visited culture. I guess the entry inquiry is less important; observation and participation are the key aspects in Muñoz’s methodology. Hence, through a thoughtful observation and participation process she gives us a strong insight of the Turkana culture, while holding a mirror towards our own. Muñoz’s work system also teaches us something about Artist in Residence programs; they are mini anthropology fieldworks. But residencies in art spaces do differ from typical anthropological field research in one important way: An anthropologist tries to stay as invisible as possible during his/her stay in the researched society, while a visiting artists wants to show what he/she is capable of, while taking into account his/her new art surrounding - again, through observation and participation. We want the visiting artists to be visible and to cross-fertilize ideas, concepts and techniques with our own artists. Josefina successfully accomplished this imprint, achieving much positive commenting and opening discussion at our space between visitors, artists, and community. Jan van Esch Managing Director Nafasi Art Space Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Turkana woman building akai, 2013


From the Temporary Structures Series, 2014 digital print on watercolor paper 55x76cm Š Joel Lukhovi

TEMPORARY STRUCTURES The Turkana nomadic pastoralists differentiate from other nomads in Africa and Eurasia by their complete lack of tents. These communities use a hodological orientation system to build their houses (akai) and fenced compounds (boma) from naturally available materials at each migration cycle. This means that their orientation is not given by physically measurable cardinal directions, but defined by paths or directions in response to topographic features in the natural environment. This unique architectural understanding makes them distinctive in their spatial ability, namely, in their way of representing knowledge about space. They migrate in accordance to the necessity of grazing pastures for their cattle. The women are in charge of collecting material for the house and of the building process. “I observed the different construction methods and understood how the vegetation of the area would define the kind of house that was built. The estimated time of stay would also determine the dedication assigned to the building process, and thus to the refinement of the akai,” Josefina states. The strong aesthetic value of the Turkana constructions was one of the leading factors that led the artist to initially opt to develop this project. “Since I first flipped through the pages of the book African Nomadic Architecture by Labelle Prussin (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), I felt I had found a topic of substantial interest. Even more, once I reached Turkana, I began to perceive every akai, every boma, and every provisional branch-assembly as an intricate sculptural form.” In the Temporary Structures series, Muñoz employs the Turkana building methods to reference the divergence between private and public space. These individually-sized wooden structures are spacious enough to allow one person to fit in, nevertheless, evidence their own inhabitability through their constricted form. Herewith, these fragile buildings intend to demarcate a futile private space for their occupant, where only a set of unstable mechanical joints separates an inside from an outside.

From the Temporary Structures Series, 2014 ink and pastel on paper 60x42cm

From the Temporary Structures Series, 2014 digital print on watercolor paper 76x55cm Š Joel Lukhovi

From the Akai | House Series, 2014 digital print on couchĂŠ paper, 21x30cm

AKAI | HOUSE The architectural influence that had inspired Josefina’s work led her to develop a strict analysis of the Turkana house. Through the photography series Akai | House the artist presents a selection of permanent and temporary houses that serve to exemplify the uniqueness of each of these forms. Influenced by Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space the artist intended to establish a distinction between the concept of house and the idea of home, upon which she reflects: “After the third migration we don’t even construct houses, since we find some that have been left behind by other families. Although the women have not personally built the structures, they assign a sense of ownership by hanging their kitchen utensils and traditional garments on the inside of the houses. Only when they have finished decorating the inner space, a woman looks at me and explains that this is her home now. However, as we proceed to an evening tea, they explain that home is not just the house. Home is not the place where they settle. Their family group is their home. Their vast land is their home.”

Inner space of Turkana akai, 2013

From the Akai | House Series, 2014 digital print on couchĂŠ paper 21x30cm each

Temporary Structures, 2014 graphite on paper 60x80cm

Provisional Form II, 2014 digital print on watercolor paper 55x76cm

PROVISIONAL FORM In the photography series Provisional Form, Muùoz presents a selection of Turkana wooden structures that are used as outdoor kitchen shelves. These nest-like arrangements are constructed by women to keep their cooking utensils out of the reach of animals and at a comfortable handling level. Considering the complexity of these assemblages, the artist has digitally erased all background elements, focusing on the intricate interlaced connections. The presence of the form’s shadow signals the aforementioned relationship to the ground and gives stability to the overall composition.

Turkana outdoor kitchen shelf, 2013

Movables, 2014 mixed media installation variable measurements

MOVABLES Life in the desert is extremely complex, yet incredibly simple. The Turkana live with scarce belongings, in total symbiosis with the environment. They truly comprehend the land and its resources, being able to cleverly endure with the minimum. Contradicting the popular misconception, the Turkana are happy people, who within their modesty, find daily spaces to dance, sing, and laugh. When the family migrates, all the household utensils are placed in the asajeit(*), on the donkey. Nevertheless, the family belongings, the few personal, precious possessions, are kept and transported on those metal boxes that kids take to boarding school. Josefina observes: “In Western societies we accumulate belongings and have a certain level of pride about what we possess. Seeing the Turkana families unattached to material ownership was truly inspiring.� (*) Asajeit: traditional Turkana hand-made wood and leather device employed to carry belongings on donkeys during migration. While not in use, the asajeit is hung on the akai for decoration and to protect the akai from the wind.

Turkana family migrating, 2013

As the artist migrated with the Turkana, she filmed different phases of the resettlement process. “Upon recent revision of this footage I realized how this box is present at all times. I wanted to explore this poetic image of the women carrying the box and to directly reference the inner space of the object itself.” In Movables, a mixed media installation, the artist transforms a series of metal containers into light boxes, and presents handpainted images portraying a narration-like sequence of Turkana women transporting the box. “The word movables refers to property or possessions not including land or buildings; therefore, I thought it was quite appropriate to use this concept to name this series,” Muñoz comments.

Movables, 2014 mixed media installation variable measurements

Video stills from personal footage, 2013

Turkana man and women giving water to cattle at water point, 2013

Turkana woman carrying water, 2013

365 LITERS OF WATER One of the daily activities that women perform in Turkana is water fetching. Young girls and adult women diligently carry multiple-sized jerrycans to the nearest water point (which can be hours of walking distance away) and then bring back the top-filled containers to the house for cooking and other domestic activities. This process can take all morning. “I have read(*) that a person performing hard work in the sun requires 19 liters of water daily. Nevertheless, sometimes I could manage with an average of 1 liter a day,â€? MuĂąoz states. The installation 365 Liters of Water presents an agglomeration of plaster castings obtained from the inner space of multiple jerrycans and bottles. These components represent a total of 365 liters of water, namely, the amount of water that a person could use in one year (or in a really nice bath). (*)US Army Survival Manual.

365 Liters of Water (detail), 2014 mixed media installation variable measurements


Redemption comes & redemption goes but transience is here forever. Charles Bernstein

Profile for Josefina Muñoz

Transient [inspired by Turkana] Exhibition Catalogue  

Josefina Muñoz | Nairobi Nationa Museum | Transient [inspired by Turkana] | Show catalogue with exhibition features and comments by Enrique...

Transient [inspired by Turkana] Exhibition Catalogue  

Josefina Muñoz | Nairobi Nationa Museum | Transient [inspired by Turkana] | Show catalogue with exhibition features and comments by Enrique...