In a region where different bodies are met with different reactions according to views expressed at that time, forms of beauty continue to thrive and are celebrated in everyday life. East Africa has had an interesting approach to bodies and sexuality since independence in the early ‘60s. In late 1988, James Njiru, Kenya’s minister for National Guidance and Political Affairs demanded for the banning of Drum and True Love magazines. His reason was that they published pornography and that the magazines were “Particularly shocking in their portrayal of women in erotic poses and in use of obscene, lewd and sexually provocative language.”
Earlier on in 1972, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president, had hinted at banning miniskirts saying that foreigners who came to the country wouldn’t then have to leave with the notion that Kenya was a good place for prostitution. Around that time, Attorney General Charles Njonjo had introduced a discussion in the Kenyan Parliament seeking to ban miniskirts. He said, “I think the miniskirt fashion is ugly…it seems to accentuate the ugly parts of the body─from the knees downward.” Njonjo’s discussion did not make headway.
In Tanzania, Julius Nyerere criminalised the wearing of miniskirts for women and tight trousers for men in 1968 while in Uganda, Iddi Amin passed a decree banning wigs, trousers and skirts having long slits in 1974.
Wawira Njeru’s photography seeks to explore and question body autonomy, people types and sexualities. To write about Wawira’s work comes with some restrictions. Her themes are wide. One can easily mix up these topics without her photography subjects’ consent. Labels are troublesome, and even though she puts a name to the themes that interest her and guide her lens, most of her work transcends these labels. She works against a historical backdrop that has had trouble welcoming hers as an acceptable form and a culture that is troubled in how it views different sexualities.