Dedicated to photographer Andrew Tshabango and in recognition of his work on this subject, COMMUTER VANS AND NO MAN’S LAND explores Nairobi’s City Center and the matatus that service it.
ARTIST STATEMENT: The function of a nation-state and by extension the purpose of its borders is to delineate a community united by political and cultural exclusivity. The influence of globalization has challenged the significance of these borders by encouraging alliances created along the lines of trade networks and cultural solidarity rather than national identity. In response, frontiers are regularly traversed by citizens, migrants, refugees, and tourists who at times find themselves occupying common territory without the requirement of allegiance to the state;. In this reality, public space can be seen as a no man’s land whose occupants are transient and incongruous.
Accountable only to its own logic, the commuter van and the city center it services transforms into an ambiguous space between border posts and the driver becomes a Coyote , smuggling passengers between virtual perimeters. For brief moments aboard the #9 or while in transit to catch the #44 matatu, many individuals who otherwise would never find themselves in tandem achieve solidarity in the pursuit of mobility and a capacity to navigate spaces. In a June 2008 opinion piece2 , theorist Achille Mbembe remarks, “In a world of rapidly expanding exploitation of a nomadic labour force, mobility is the precondition for securing livelihood…Africa needs to free itself from the curse of the Nation-State by learning to do without borders”.
It is my premise that the commuter van, as native of no man’s land, is pregnant with this knowledge. Their potential as equalizer democratizes access, encourages mobility and – perhaps- helps to make more porous the rigid borders of the modern nation-state.
1 Coyote is the term used for individuals hired to illegally escort migrants across the US Mexico border
2 CAN WE DO WITHOUT BORDERS? 27 June 2008: An opinion piece by Achille Mbembe, Research Professor of History and Development at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (South Africa), focusing on the xenophobic attacks and violence in May 2008. Published in the Sunday Independent on 15 June 2008. 'm a paragraph.