In the late 80’s and ’90s, Kenyan theatre was a bustling scene. Nearly every day of the week you’d find NGO sponsored plays that were public service announcements and reproductions of Shakespeare’s works on stage. However, there was another world existing within the theatre scene. One of cultural activism where bold playwrights and producers were churning out plays that led to a rise in censorship. Not to be stopped the artists worked around the new laws aimed at muzzling them by selling tickets to their dress rehearsals instead. The government’s feverish efforts in curtailing whatever freedom of speech we had at the time proved that their work was having a positive
Culture impacts society and society grows by culture, censorship took that growth away from us.
However with changes in government so did changes in policy occur. Today new narratives based on the definitions, interests, passions, aspirations and lifestyle choices of Kenyans are being created every day. Far from the days of theatre stages we now see the “rise of the new bold”, artists who are using different tools to tell our stories. Love stories from Oromia, graphic novels about the Orisha of Nigeria, and tales of Africans defying stereotypes and triumphing against all odds. Kenyan artistic expressions are not only embracing technological advances but also using them to play with all five senses as they tell our stories. The true value of selling African narratives is multiplied exponentially by the use of tech to sell emotions, thoughts and reimagined futures. African Spacemakers is one of the best examples of the new bold in African storytelling. The film is a series of five docu-fictions depicting the lives of their imagined heroes. It’s an immersive telling of how creative society can and continue to be agents of social change. Cultural Video production, CVP (Cultural Video Production), who produced the film alongside Black Rhino VR and the Goethe Institut in Kenya, is a private organisation that uses film to support and push for sustainable societal development. This isn’t the first time they’ve used immersive storytelling featuring a hero Archetype. Upendo Hero is a participatory documentary featuring the titular character as a vigilante helping reclaim Nairobi’s public spaces. In the film, Upendo Hero (Upendo means love in Swahili) is a lover of Nairobi, a sworn enemy of gentrification and a soldier against the privatization of public space.” Their approach for African Spacemakers was different but remains as impactful as Upendo Hero. Any story told in virtual reality can seem compelling because of the wow factor”. However, in African Spacemakers, the team manage to not only draw you visually into the depicted creatives spaces but pull you emotionally into the activities therein. It is a thrilling telling of what art is capable of from the stories in the film to how it was created. It’s a film in 5 parts, with each episode depicting a different organisation or individuals in their creative space.

The virtual tour is of Nairobi’s urban landscape and how these spaces are currently “challenging the
acceptance of established social norms on sexuality, gender, religion, minorities, and race.”
Virtual reality experiences and the secret theatrical showings may seem quite different but in their use to tell stories focused on the African Narrative, they are quite similar.

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