Mending cracks 2017

I have been cooperating with the Razem Pamoja Foundation for over a year. The charity supports education of children from Mathare, a slum in Nairobi, by founding academic scholarships. A while ago, in pictures from Mathare, I spotted children in well-worn sweaters, serving as their school uniforms. Also then, I came up with the idea of travelling to Kenya and patching these holes.

The holes attracted my attention entirely not due to my identifying them with poverty. Holey clothes are beautiful to me, they bear traces of life, of use, they are records of a history, and treating them cordially in the process of mending transforms them into even more beautiful objects. In Europe, people usually do not wear their clothing so long that they could wear; the time of clothes mending has passed, the time of discarding and consumption is here. When, however, I have a chance to take a close look or touch a darned piece, I get very moved by the gesture somebody performed towards them. I myself have repaired clothes in a visible manner – once, the meaning was symbolic – it was an atonement. I darned a friend’s t-shirt with bloody scabs, highly visible, but very beautiful at the same take. It might have not been the only reason he forgave me.

The activity in Kenya, a very concrete gesture can simultaneously be read in a more symbolic fashion. Not only did we patch holes in sweaters but, at the same token, cracks in the lives of women working on the mending. Thanks to the job, they receive remuneration, which enables them to pay their rent or school fees for their children.

In June 2017, while in Mathare, Justus Omondi and I collected sweaters from 21 students of two schools supported by the Pamoja Foundation. In exchange for used clothes, the students received new ones, purchased by the Foundation.

Then, the sweaters were washed and I set out to mend them, filling their enormous holes with red cashmere. I was assisted in the work by women of the Spółdzielnia Cooperative Ushirika: Diana Adhiambo, Mary Mueni, Philo Aluo, Ann Mwikali, Winnie Muanie, Elisabeth Otunga, and Margaret Kadenyi. We employed Japanese boro style in the repair.

Subsequently, I remade the sweaters so adults could wear them. I wanted to give new life to the clothes, so that a person to wear them would transmit a certain message to the world: about the beauty of used things, thereby manifesting care for the planet and respect for the labour of human hands.

A second, third or fourth life of clothes and other things is currently an extremely burning issue; I have an impression that the project ought to be continued. I would like to undertake a reflection on principles of operation of world trade in used clothes and its impact on both residents of the global north and of Africa