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A collage from the MaaSci series by Jacque Njeri
Courtesy/Jacque Njeri
A collage from the “MaaSci” photo series by Jacque Njeri.
MAASCI

A photo collection imagines the future of the Maasai people in space

By Abdi Latif Dahir

A young boy carrying a spear, a stick, and a blackheaded lamb walks into a clouded, celestial horizon. A woman, decked in traditional Maasai bead jewelry, identifies as a cyborg. And a man, wearing checkered traditional garments, floats in a surreal underwater seascape.

These digital collages by the Kenyan digital artist and photographer Jacque Njeri reimagine the future of the Maasai—the Nilotic tribe that inhabits mostly Kenya and Tanzania—in space. Dubbed MaaSci, short for Maasai science fiction, the project portrays the cultural significance of the Maasai people blended with an exploration of time travel and life on other planets.

Njeri says her style was inspired by the Maasai themselves. The jewelry, clothing, and even the colors a member of the community dons can signify their age, social status, and location. “The Maasai tribe is synonymous to Kenya and in their own right, Africa,” Njeri says, adding that their “rich cultural aesthetic” provided a background “to the different science fiction themes represented in the compositions.” The futuristic world was also inspired by Tatooine City, the fictional desert planet that appears in Star Wars (which was partly filmed in Tunisia).

Njeri’s photos come at a time when many African photographers and filmmakers are experimenting with science fiction and virtual reality to tell complex stories, using digital photo editing to comment on or reimagine historical narratives or social issues. For instance, last year, Kenyan photographer Osborne Macharia created The Kipipiri Four, a fictional project that was a tribute to the role women played in the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, which ultimately ended Britain’s reign in Kenya.

Njeri says her photos also underscore the role of women in a futuristic world. With less than two weeks to Kenya’s elections, she says she tried to “subtly” address the question of female leadership in the series. Her previous collection, which redesigned old postage stamps, also addressed the question of women in power. She wanted “to push the envelope creatively in a direction that addressed Africa, and evoked a sense of promise for a vibrant future.”

While Njeri’s photographs might be fictional, it is no secret that African governments are looking to space to power their economic, technological, and military ambitions. Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria have all invested in space technology or launched their own satellites. These investments are considered crucial, given their potential to improve agriculture, guard from deforestation, improve disaster planning, provide internet to rural communities, and increase their scope of intelligence and security gathering.