An Exhibition at the Nairobi National Gallery, March-June 2023
In 2005, AwaaZ Magazine featured Pio Gama Pinto as its cover story titled ‘Independent Kenya’s First Martyr’. The democratic space which evolved after the 2002 non-violent overthrow of the Moi dictatorship made it possible for the first time since Pinto’s assassination in 1965 to publish writings on Pinto without them being considered ‘seditious’. The issue was received with great enthusiasm and inspired other historians and academicians to start researching and writing about this remarkable patriot who paid the ultimate price for his belief and activism around social justice, political pluralism and democracy for the majority. Other writings since then have been:
- Pio Gama Pinto — Patriot for Social Justice by Pheroze Nowrojee published by Sasa Sema Publications in 2007.
- Pio Gama Pinto — An Unsung Hero, anthology edited by Shiraz Durrani, published by Vita Books in 2018.
- ‘Kenyan Organic Intellectuals Reflect on the Legacy of Pio Gama Pinto’, published by Daraja Press in 2022.
- A 7-part YouTube podcast in Sheng titled ‘Until Everyone is Free’ in 2022.
Since 2002, there have been annual graveside commemorations of Pinto’s death by social justice groups and individuals who have sought to reclaim our Kenyan patriots who have been ignored and sidelined by post-colonial governments in Kenya. In 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of Pinto’s death, a commemoration was hosted by the Kenyan Asian Forum (KAF) at the Mazingira Institute supported by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
A few years ago the Asian African Heritage Trust, in partnership with the Nairobi County government, memorialised Pinto by naming a road after him. It adjoins the present day Sarit Centre – a corner of this plot is the site of the house Pinto and his family lived in on the day of his assassination in February 1965. There have also been initiatives to rehabilitate Pinto’s grave at City Park where he is buried next to his father. The Murumbi Peace Museum is on its outskirts, honouring Murumbi’s wish to be buried close to his friend, Pinto; but the security situation in the area has been a challenge. The aim is to rehabilitate the space so that it would become a site to commemorate two of Kenya’s most revered heroes. At the launch of the Pinto Exhibition, the AwaaZ editors appealed to the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) for assistance in securing the space and the request was well received.
In 2022, The SAMOSA Festival , the cultural arm of AwaaZ Magazine, engaged NMK and started a conversation with Betty Karanja, Senior Curator at the NMK Nairobi Gallery, about the possibility of hosting a Pio Gama Pinto Exhibition. By late November/early December 2022, an agreement was reached to mount the exhibition from March to May 2023. It was of particular interest to the Gallery because of the close relationship between Pio Gama Pinto and Joseph Murumbi whose renowned Collection of African Art is held and exhibited at the Gallery.
Suddenly, the pressure was on. With less than three months to go, organisers at the SAMOSA Fesitval were faced with a herculean task. We spent the three months fundraising, researching and reading all the available material, collecting photographs, designing the panels, contacting the family members and other relevant sources, organising publicity, etc.
The exhibition was launched on March 5, 2023. It was attended by about 200 people and was graced by the NMK Director for Monuments and Antiquities, Dr Manthi Manthi, Shujaa Gitu wa Kahengeri of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association, and Mzalendo Wanjira Wanjiru of the Mathare Social Justice Centre who performed the opening ceremony. The exhibition marks the first time a public conversation is being held by Kenyans on the assassination of this much-revered son of the country. This was 58 years after that sad event. We hope it will go some way in healing the trauma the family and compatriots of Pio Gama Pinto have endured since 1965 and open an avenue for the resolution of independent Kenya’s saga of political assassinations.
A special mention must be made of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, which supported the exhibition as part of a memorialization project in its 25th Anniversary celebrations. A website on Pio Gama Pinto will be launched in the near future.
There has been a great interest in the exhibition, which to date has been visited by at least 600 people from a cross-section of the society. One most heartening visitor was a young boy, David Mwangi, from Kibera, who spent three hours viewing the Pinto Exhibition. Plans are under way to take the exhibition to Kisumu, Migori, Bondo, Siaya and Mombasa. Some other organisations within Nairobi are also interested in hosting the exhibition.
Zahid Rajan and Zarina Patel
Photos from the Pio Gama Pinto Exhibition
Children’s Session at the Pio Gama Pinto Exhibition