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Slay Queen (2018) by Cyrus Kabiru

Slay Queen, 2018
Image courtesy of SMAC Gallery
Artwork copyright Cyrus Kabiru

The picture shows the artist Cyrus Kabiru wearing one of his artworks, SLAY QUEEN, in 2018. The piece is part of his collection of „eyewear“ made out of urban trash, called C-Stunners. Mainly due to this collection, the Kenyan artist has been gaining international recognition in the past few years. His artistic approach grew out the constant confrontation with trash – he grew up just across the Nairobi dumpsite. Setting his heart on „giving trash a second chance“, he made it the anchor of his artistic practice.

His art is concrete art. The SLAY QUEEN is made to be enjoyed and experienced. It is simple, playful and personal. One is immediately reminded of one‘s one appearance – picturing oneself wearing that eyewear. At the same time, lurking in the background of the queen‘s face is the fact that the piece is made out of the trash that is polluting our world, out of the trash that is dumped in the Global South as part of the exploitative relationship between the economically developed and underdeveloped countries. Thus, it reminds us of our multi-layered existence and that objects can be playful and innocent that were actually born out of ecological disaster and social injustice.

SLAY QUEEN is made out of different discarded materials collected in the streets. Nearly covering the whole face, it consists of a silvery blue round metal plate on which other fragile pieces of metal, an electronic item as well as pearls are attached. The piece is of geometric clarity, yet with some playful elements. The dominating round silvery-blue circle is joined by fine wire, lending it an exquisite and seaworldly aura. The whole piece is reminiscent of a female face. „Slay Queen“ is the slang word for a woman who boasts about her – real or made-up – flamboyant lifestyle on social media. The term can be, but not necessarily is, pejoratively used. In either case, it describes a proud woman, who enjoys luxury and beauty at any cost. In this piece, you can detect this fierceness, but also her soft and longing side. She seems to be looking tender yet determined into the future.

Cyrus Kabiru‘s strong conviction to do art is remarkable. Against all the odds of an uncomprehending social surrounding and economic precariousness, he pursued his path of becoming an artist. He even refused to be educated in the fine arts to prevent his own artistic style from being compromised by the expectations of others. His approach is intuitive. At the centre of his work is „giving trash a second chance“, which allows unfettered conduct. That creates pieces with own personalities, unclouded by a narrative or theory. Rather, one is drawn to them due to their unpretentiousness and purity. It is their simplicity that makes them unique. Cyrus‘ pieces came into being out of the simple urge to create beauty. We can feel Cyrus telling us: „just look around yourself, there is beauty everywhere“.

by Pia Stengl