The Art of Connection narrates the individual stories of artisans and traders of Kenyan arts and crafts as they overcome the loss of physical access to roadside market space by turning to new digital technologies to make their businesses more mobile and integrated into the global economy. Bringing together the studies of globalization, development, art, and communication, the book illuminates the lived experiences of informal economies and shows how traders and small enterprises balance new risks with the mobility afforded by digital technologies. An array of ethnic and generational politics have led to market burnings and witchcraft accusations as Kenya’s crafts industry struggles to adapt to its new connection to the global economy. To mediate the resulting crisis of trust, the Fair Trade sticker and other NGO aesthetics continue to successfully represent a transparent, ethical, and trusting relationship between buyer and producer. Dillon Mahoney shows that by balancing revelation and obfuscation—what is revealed and what is not—Kenyan art traders make their own roles as intermediaries and the exploitative realities of the global economy invisible.
List of Illustrations
1 • The Art of Connection: An Introduction
2 • Mombasa Marginalized: Claims to Land and Legitimacy in a Tourist City
3 • Crafts Traders versus the State
4 • Negotiating Informality in Mombasa
5 • New Mobilities, New Risks
6 • Crafting Ethical Connection and Transparency in Coastal Kenya
7 • From Ethnic Brands to Fair Trade Labels
Dillon Mahoney is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida.
“Dillon Mahoney has written a richly grounded ethnography of real integrity and theoretical importance, one that changes our thinking about the entanglements of long-distance trade and the global rise of digital connectivity. You’ll never look at the curios on your mantelpiece the same way again.”—Janet McIntosh, author of Unsettled: Denial and Belonging among White Kenyans