CCW PhD student Sam Hopkins was nominated as a Global Thinker of 2014 and awarded on 17 November 2014. Hopkins is researching counter-narratives of identity, with a specific focus on how identity is rendered in the History Gallery of the Nairobi Museum. Nominated by Foreign Policy, the award is given annually. ‘Each year [we identify] the top 100 Leading Global Thinkers- and though there are 100 slots, it’s worth noting that, in some cases, there’s more than one person to an entry. That is to say, sometimes big thinking requires a team, rather than just one individual; in other cases, we have paired people who might be strangers, but who share a common mission that we’ve identified as a notable trend. Thus, a total of 131 people populate this year’s list.’
Hopkins was surprised to receive his nomination. ‘About 6 weeks ago I was just about to shut my computer down on a Friday evening, when I received an email informing me that I had been selected as one of the “Leading Global Thinkers of 2014” for “my work”. That was it, no real clue as to what part of my work, or why I had been selected. Naturally I thought it was spam, closed down my computer and forgot about all it. By Monday, I realised that it was not spam, that the nomination was genuine, and had been made by the magazine Foreign Policy, based in Washington DC. It appeared that I had been nominated for Deconstructing Western Aid to Africa. A grand claim, which I should perhaps explain.
I am an artist, based in Nairobi and over the past 10 years I have been developing a practice that explores strategies of participation to develop counter-narratives of identity. What does that mean? Basically, I am interested in how, in Kenya, specific media produce specific narratives, and how these official narratives can be questioned and destabilised. A specific example of one of these narratives is the representation of Africa within the discourse of “Development” and “Aid” as a space of suffering, need and charity; what my friend and colleague Alexander Nikolic termed the “NGO aesthetic”. But how do you approach such a massive issue without being banal?
My approach is to try to be specific, and one of the ways I explored this idea is to look at the logos of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Aid Agencies working in Kenya. The logos seemed to distil and make clearly visible the ideology, expectations and prejudice behind the Developmental Aid project. My strategy was to mix real and fake logos in an installation of 24 screen-printings, the idea being that, not knowing which is genuine and which is fictitious, you re-examine all of them. Suspended in a limbo of authenticity you the way in which the logos construct a specific image of Kenya becomes clearly visible. The work was shown at Dak’art 2014, this years Dakar Biennale, and hence it came to the attention of Foreign Policy magazine when they were selecting their list of Global Thinkers of 2014.’Featured image by Dakota Fine/Foreign Policy Magazine