Kenyan museum builds 3D digital reconstructions to bring dark side of British colonial past to life

Mweru camp torture chamber
Former torture chamber Mweru camp as it appears in present day Mweru High School. Photo: Museum of British Colonialism

The latest project from the Museum of British Colonialism, a joint UK and Kenyan initiative, has utilised the immersive power of 3D digital reconstructions to visualise the history of detention camps in Kenya setup by the British colonial government during the 1952-60 state of emergency.

Working in partnership with African Digital Heritage, the 3D reconstructions will add to the museum’s existing digital offerings of oral history recordings and testimonies; documentaries; photography; and interactive digital maps.

The project’s digital approach will also enable them to engage with and educate wide-ranging audiences globally. With volunteers working across Kenya and the UK, the approach will also allow the work to be shared without the need to be physically in the same space or requiring access to physical collections.

This new resource focuses on the Aguthi and Mweru detention centres, located in Kenya’s central region. 

According to the museum, the British colonial administration established the sites as part of a country-wide “pipeline” made up of more than 100 such detention camps, works camps and emergency villages. These locations were used to detain and control the native Kenyan population during the State of Emergency between 1952 and 1960.

Digital models of each site based on remnants of the same structures today, visual archival sources and oral history testimonies from Mau Mau veterans by museum staff Chao Tayiana, Mike Wanjala and Grace Sampao. Their work will form part of a larger, ongoing effort to creatively communicate a “more truthful account of British colonial history in Kenya”.

To start with, individual structures from two different camps in Nyeri county, Mweru and Aguthi.  We created digital models of each site based on remnants of the same structures today, visual archival sources and oral history testimonies from Mau Mau veterans

The reconstructions are the first in what will become a series of 3D exhibits designed to spark conversations on and boost wider awareness of the presence of such sites in the African nation.

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