• Dedan Kimathi Monument/ School of Fine Art, Kenyatta University

Location: Nairobi  Kenya
Project Year: 2007
Photographer: Michael Mathenge

Only a few men can be as revered and admired as the sensation that is Dedan Kimathi. He has managed to capture the imagination of numerous generations as the symbol of freedom and Kenyan resistance to colonial rule.

Dedan Kimathi Wachiuri was a leader of the Mau Mau uprising against the British colonial government in Kenya in the 1950s. However Kimathi was captured and hanged by the colonial government at the height of Kenya’s freedom struggle. His grave at the Kamiti Prison has never been identified.

Fifty years down the line, and he still stands defiant with a rifle in the right hand and a dagger in the left. He is clothed in the same military uniform of the British soldiers that he fought, a tribute to the time he served in the imperialist army. His hair twisted in dreadlocks crown his head in an intrepid ferociousness and overall rebellion. The polished concrete statue is overcome with rough tones and texture with grit as its medium.

The sculpture stands on a pedestal placed in the middle of the junction of Kimathi Street and Mama Ngina Street, isolating it amidst the city traffic. The guard rails that surround it act as a nuisance in the approach, inconveniencing the overall placement and accessibility of the monument. Despite the physical separation, the sculpture is still visible; its position unscathed by shadow and the cacophony of urban streetscape.  Planters line and soften the site, breaking the monotonous concrete jungle that is Nairobi’s CBD. Beyond the functional, the plants and trees make the man look more at home.

The pedestal upon which it stands is minimal to say the least. Finished with marble tiles that blend with the Hilton’s exterior finish, it opens up on one edge in glass and stretches up to 3m height. It takes nothing from the sculpture but gives everything the monument needs. It contains a bronze plaque paying tribute to the freedom fighter. The inscriptions are short but to the point, with the ominous quote,” it is better to die on our feet than live on our knees for fear of colonial rule.”

The articulation and execution of the project venerates not only the man, but the craftsmen themselves. The project was undertaken by students in the School of Fine Art in Kenyatta University. The attention to detail marks the concrete sculpture, breathing life into it. The backdrop imposes a humbling dose of scale and proportion to the monument. Since its placement, the Hilton has never looked more intact and in harmony. Its isolation emphasizes its presence in a world where fanatic vandalism plagues our National monuments.

Besides adding aesthetic beauty to Kimathi Street, this piece of art portrays a resilient man of ragged nature in a brazen stance. Now gazetted as a national treasure, it acts as a public site of memory and narrative to the revolutionary struggle that elevated Dedan Kimathi into the legendary hero who embodies sacrifice and true Kenyan nationalism.

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