“NGO aesthetics”: that’s how artist Sam Hopkins characterizes the one-sided representation of his home country of Kenya in the global media. Of Mathare, an informal settlement with a population of some 500,000 north of the capital, Nairobi, one finds thousands of photos of children wearing dirty clothes and streets without sewers, full of shanties, “but I have never seen one of the vibrant party and gambling scene”, says Hopkins.
When, in 2007, he co-founded Slum TV with the Vienna-based artists Alexander Nikolic and Lukas Pusch alongside Fred Otieno and Julius Karanja, Hopkins wanted to counter these representations; they may be useful for collecting donations, but in no way reflect his own experience of Mathare. They spent two weeks showing interested residents of Mathare how to make TV. Since then, the team has expanded to 20 members and produced documentaries, reports, short films and a sitcom with a local focus that Mathare residents can watch on a big screen and then discuss. Slum TV jumped to the limelight during the uprisings following the 2008 Kenyan general elections. Although the conflicts were particularly violent in Mathare, the team made a conscious decision to not show more pictures of slum dwellers brandishing machetes. Instead, they created the Peace Newsreel, which mainly tells stories of solidarity and mutual support in the ethnically mixed settlement. Subsequently, Slum TV garnered the attention of international media and, ironically, it was mainly presented as a development aid project. Hopkins has fought against this interpretation until the present day; he regrets that the creative, identity-building and dynamic aspects of the project have been disregarded.