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Anyango Mpinga’s new, Lamu and dragonfly inspired collection

Emancipation through art; find out what inspires designs by Anyango Mpinga

Inspiration: The 2018 Collection “Literary Disenthrallment” is a collection about the emancipation of women beyond the social construct of gender inequality. The Collection is inspired by a voyage to Lamu Island. Lamu town is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa. The period from the late 17th century to early 19th century marks the town’s golden age, when Lamu was a center of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as trade. Many of the buildings of the town were constructed during this period in a distinct classical style with intricate carvings on walls and doors.

Aside from its thriving arts and crafts trading, Lamu became a literary and scholastic center. One particular poet who stands out is Mwana Kupona, a pioneer 19th Century woman who was famed for her poem Utendi wa Mwana Kupona (“The Book of Mwana Kupona”), which is one of the most well-known works of early Swahili Literature, on an Island that thrived on the slave trade until it’s abolition in 1907. She was the widow of the influential and famous Sheikh Mataka bin Mbaraka, known for waging war against the Sultan of Zanzibar. She enjoyed a higher status and greater freedom in Lamu than was the convention in Kenya during that time. In anticipation of her death, she wrote a poem for her 14 year old daughter Mwana Heshima, to guide her through life as she learned about love and marriage, guiding her gently into the art of seduction.

It later became a book that talks about this secular subject on women whilst also remaining religious and to some point mysterious using archaic Swahili words and quoting the Islamic Calendar. A short excerpt can be found below:

Mwenye kutunga nudhumu
Ni gharibu mwenye hamu
Na ubora wa ithimu
Rabbi tamghufiria
Ina lake mufahamu
Ni mtaraji karimu
Mwana Kupona Mshamu
Pate alikozaliwa
Tarikhiye kwa yakini
Ni alifu wa miyateni
Hamsa wa sabini
The author of this work
is a sorrowful widow
her worst sin
The Lord will forgive
Know her name
she is Reliant-of-the-Provider
Mwana Kupona Mshamu
born in Pate.
The date in reality
Is one thousand two hundred

Joseph Manglaviti of Clique Photography Mauritius

Model: Yvonne Endo

Whilst on my trip to Lamu with friends, I happened to stumble upon a fascinatingly beautiful dragonfly in the kitchen floor of the house we rented. The dragonfly carries the symbolism of transformation and change; a change in perspective of self realization. This is the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of a deeper meaning of life. The female dragonfly has the ability to fake its own death when faced with an unwanted male harassing her for sex. This is her way of asserting her freedom and her right to choose when to mate with a potential partner.

We live in a world where women still live in fear of their safety and unwanted sexual advances from their male counterparts whether it’s in the workplace, at home or in the streets and this is a global problem making us slaves in an era when freedom is a right every girl and woman should enjoy regardless of their social or economic background.

This collection is a powerful response to the shaming of women who speak up for themselves; it is a call for a change in perspective when it comes to how society handles sexual and emotional abuse at personal and institutional levels.

It is an ode to the women who have disenthralled themselves from abusive situations; whether professional or personal with the hope that society can evolve from a narrative that is devoid of equality.

Both Lamu architecture and the dragonfly influenced my print design; drawing inspiration from traditional wall carving textures to create timeless patterns.

This is a guest post from Anyango Mpinga . If you’d like to be featured or know someone who does, please contact us and we’ll be excited to share the story.

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