Kitundu’s installation in African Hall is a storefront inspired by those in the Kariakoo district of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The work is a collection of references to the types of stores found in the area and informed by the artist's memories and associations. It is a response to the use of dioramas as teaching tools and to their problematic history of extraction as a means to educate or entertain audiences at a distance. Dioramas are often exquisitely made by incredibly talented artisans. They are a wonder to behold but their precise recreations are works of fiction meant to tell a story. That story is almost always told from an external perspective.
In the case of the continent of Africa, dioramas built in the West tend to look to the past, toward an “idealized” natural scene, and ignore the built environment altogether. In a society that is uninformed about Africa–that rarely seeks specificity when referring to a continent of a billion people and consistently receives problematic information about African countries and cultures–the diorama form as practiced does little to ground people in the reality of our shared existence. The history, contemporary life, and the intellectual and artistic work of African people is missing, and this absence does little to trouble those with problematic notions of the continent.
This work is meant to be a provocation. It is meant to be seen in this context and communicate that people from Dar es Salaam–not just Africans in general, and more specifically those in the Kariakoo district–are living, listening, and going about their daily modern lives. It is meant to uproot visitors from an idealized and nostalgic stroll through African Hall and have them contend with the presence of the continent in a different way. This is an opportunity for all exhibits in the hall to be viewed more critically, and to ensure that conversations about history, humanity, and our shared future will inform our interpretations of the natural world.