My late mother’s prayer mat lives on my sitting room wall behind a 6ft x 3ft wood and glass frame. It is old and frayed and beautiful and it hasn’t been used in 25 years. The light sisal fabric is imprinted with two crescent moons, a mosque and a clutch of roses framed by patterns of dancing leaves. I am the custodian of a piece of family history imbued with story and meaning, fact and legend.
When I first presented nostalgia as a possible theme to the Collective in May 2020, the pandemic had become a stark reality in our lives and that precious mkeka had spent its first month on my wall. In this season of loss, I wanted to think with my peers about time and memory through both sentimental and pragmatic lenses. Asking questions about progress, longing and erasure and what hindsight revealed about the monumental gains and losses in the history of the world. Wondering together whether there was a space, a need perhaps, for a reckoning with the big ideas that once governed us. Challenging ourselves to discover if there were new truths or if everything remained evergreen? And if it was all really perfect back then.
The stories in this issue continue on these paths and chart new ones as Vol 1 did. They ground these questions and invite complexity to our reflections. There’s as much fear, anger and resentment as there are feelings of hope, remembrance of joy and gratitude. Whether it is a man contemplating his rapidly receding hairline in Andrew Aidoo’s fictional narrative, Baldwin or Harvey Dimond’s essay, Postcolonial Melancholia examining British architecture as a lasting legacy of empire and how these buildings and monuments all across the world stand as “a troubling reminder of the evil that occurred, a mausoleum of trauma”.
There’s a great deal of standing still, reliving moments or wanting to go back in these pages. Authors write love letters, characters go on car rides and everyone makes inventories in a bid to understand what fate has dealt them. There is one sci-fi story imagining a disappeared continent, another, the entire Earth as we know it.
Indeed as L.P Hartley wrote, “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there”. This volume also features visual art essays by historian Chao Maina and photographer Zhang Xiao both of whom create images that impress upon us a sense of loss and disconnection; one with scenes of neglected railway stations and the other a rural Chinese town. Equally keen to bring archival material to life, thespians and dynamic writing duo, Ngartia Bryan and Abu Sense from Too Early for Birds, a series of storytelling productions based on Kenyan history, are guests on the History and The Truth-Tellers conversation series.
Launched in February 2021, this second volume completes the series and shows our spirit of resilience. I remain acutely aware that I was asking everyone involved with this project for their participation even as our invisible war raged on. Thank you for trusting us with your work, ideas and resources. I am indebted to the authors and the editorial team; Richard Ali (Poetry), Ndinda Kioko (Fiction), Chao Maina (Non-Fiction) and Marziya Mohammedali (Visual Art). Sincere thanks to Goethe-Institut Nairobi, British Council UK and Heva Fund via Sundance Institute’s Respond and Re-imagine Plan for their support in the production of the issue and Edinburgh’s Momentum team for collaborating with us.
Wanjeri Gakuru – Editor
Managing Editor, Jalada Africa
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