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Pioneer and idealist

[Map over Kenya]

A new design education in Kenya

by Amrik Kalsi, 2006
Executive Director, Sustainability Africa,
Consultant, United Nations Human Settlements
Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Africa is a cultural bazaar – a variety of values drawn from different civilizations. They left behind their cultural legacies, visible not only in architecture and furniture, textiles and dress, but also in langu­ag­es, dialects, literature and arts. A new angle to cultural diversity was added by the colonial rule, creating a new social class that was exposed to western world, education, ideas, thinking and more important – products and technologies. Colonial architecture, dress, products and advertising contributed further to this diversity. Some of it was direct transplant; while others superficially attempted synthesis with the local traditions.

Kenya, like the majority of the countries in Africa attained indepen­dence in early sixties (1963). However, like most of Africa, Kenya retained official ties with its colonial power that had associated with for the previous 60 years or so. This association had the effect of regulating, for better or worse, developments in Kenya. Design and design education were part of this association. The colonialists had tailored education, like all other institutions, to serve their own needs. Most of the well-known professions operated an education system which is inherited or “borrowed” from the western world.

The education of artists and designers, in Kenya, was geared to promote consumerism as in the western countries. Therefore, education mainly focused on producing designers for advertising and sales promotion of products not always required or beneficial to the society.

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