Modern Kenyan Identity: Crafting a Nation Through Monuments

Lydia W. Muthuma


To define the identity of a modern African country, within the Eurocentric interpretive framework, imposes creative limits. Therefore, this is an insider’s perspective of Kenyan identity. It begins with a summary of what constitutes modernism as a philosophy that underpins various cultural expressions. While pointing out the danger of assigning expressions of cultural identity to a state as opposed to a nation, the article surveys monuments in Nairobi. And it is with qualified confidence that modernist-looking monuments are considered cultural expressions of Kenya; they are simply symbols that try to gather the peoples into a modern collective – with (un)certain success.

The colonial authority assembled various monuments in an effort to imprint British identity; these are not in the style of modernism, though they were erected when Europe was experiencing the culture of modernism. The epitome is the statue of King George V. Post-colonial monuments, seeking to wipe off colonial identity, are also more classical and less modernist, bringing to the fore the paradox of a modern culture that does not employ the modernist style. Jomo Kenyatta’s statue in Nairobi’s City Square is the epitome of post-colonial monuments. Its mounting was the gesture par excellence of overthrowing British dominion. The only modernist monuments are those affiliated to President Daniel Moi. His regime had to fight to unite the citizens. A parallel is drawn between this political effort and the artistic style of choice.

A discussion of the non-prevalence of the modernist style in articulating modern identity follows. And, in conclusion, the article points out that though both colonial and post-colonial monuments are fabricated out of modern materials and techniques, they cannot be termed modernist works of art. Modernism, as a style that bespeaks a culture, is unavoidably underpinned on western culture (European and American) of the 20th century.


Article received: December 18, 2019; Article accepted: January 31, 2020; Published online: April 15, 2020; Original scholarly paper

How to cite the article: Muthuma, Lydia W. "Modern Kenyan Identity: Crafting a Nation Through Monuments." AM Journal of Art and Media Studies 21 (2020): 25-43. doi: 10.25038/am.v0i21.368


modern national identity; modernism; post colonial identity; monuments.

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