The photographic project work shown here is called ” The Architecture of Ubuntu ” see www.chrismartinphotographer.com and features an aerial collection of pictures of African informal settlements. This project started in May/ June 2008 and continues in Brazil and Nigeria in 2011.
Having worked on many community based projects in Africa, I am fascinated by life in the ” slum” – the vibrancy and the hardship in this ” beating heart ” of urban Africa. For this project I chose two places as my starting point, two of Africa’s biggest informal settlements. Kibera in Nairobi and Cape Flats in Cape Town, South Africa both of which are home to more than 1 million people.
One straightforward goal of this project is to show the size of these communities from the air to get a feel for the scale of the slum. I felt this was worthwhile because mainstream western media does not often represent these large communities as anything but problem areas or see them as being significant other than pools of labour for the globalization machine. So to start with lets acknowledge just how many people we are talking about here … its many millions of people living in modern day Africa …given that Africa is approaching an urbanization rate of 50%…this kind of neighbourhood is the first stop if you have limited resources and are coming to the city.
Ubuntu.. roughly translated means “people are people through other people” thus we cannot live as one individual and African people traditionally often see their actions as individuals as being mutually dependent on others and hopefully beneficial to the wider community. This seems easy to understand in the context of a village environment but less easy to understand in the setting of an informal settlement where more than 1 million people live together without often access to clean water, medical facilities or indeed to developed civil society organizations. From my visits to Kibera, It soon became obvious that amongst the hierachys that exist in any community – and the absolute degrees of poverty in the slum, these communities whilst they have their share of informal alliances and beyond the rule of law reputation -also demonstrate layers of interdependency and community co-operation that allow resources like water and power as well as security to be tangible and available to anybody willing to pay, work or exchange a service for something else. So.. at first sight Id say that the notion of Ubuntu is alive and well in the informal settlement.
The Cape flats is one of the fastest growing urban populations in the world. The truth for most people living in slum conditions is that for now this is their home, and they may have learnt to live without great resources or community representation, and they may have given up on authorities and government and are just getting on with life… or are as one South African author called it ” living the beautiful struggle “..
What will happen in these locations in 5 or 10 years time when the slums grow to twice there current size given the reluctance of authorities to deal with the social and economic realities and political issues that the growth of informal settlements raise ? Or indeed do the residents of these areas really care about being part of the first world system ?
The mainstream media largely portrays slums as entities which the state does not have a positive view of and cannot afford to manage adequately. It therefore seems ironic that from here the reservoirs of creative talent that include contributors to music, dance, design, fashion, business and street level political activism and this is the first stop for anyone migrating from village to city. For others who watch from a distance it’s just a poor urban population already at melt down…little do they know … of the beautiful struggle..
The scale of informal settlements is breathtaking, a mass of intangible, undefined, seething vibrant… humanity living day to day lives based on self reliance and community interdependence.
This project now continues in Lagos, Nigeria and Rio in Brazil during 2010 and 2011.
The fine art photographic collection of limited edition prints from this project is available from April 2011.