“QUEENS IN ESSENCE, 2015-2020” Portraits of Nubian women from Kibera- Nairobi. A work of research and photography in progress.


Nub noun (a biblical term to mean Gold) / Nubian noun (plural Nubians) -An inhabitant of the ancient

Nubia or a person of Nubian descent.

Essence noun (plural essences)

  1. The inherent nature of a thing or idea
  2. A being; especially, a purely spiritual being.

“Queens in Essence” is a photography work my latest work, a project in progress that depicts Nubian women of East Africa as the “Queens that they really are” in relation to the present and their royal, rich ancient history (that only a few of them are informed about). The first series (Nairobi/April/2015) show portraits of Nubian female elders and young ladies from Kibra (Kibera) staged in a modern photo studio as they strictly dressed in Nubian wear.


After 12 BC, a series of Nubian Queens ruled Egypt. Queen Tiye (1415-1340 BC) was an intelligent and beautiful full black African married to King Amen Hotep III, one of world’s mightiest Pharaohs and conquerors of the time. Her son Akhenaton and his wife Queen Nefertiti are the parents of the young famous King “Tut” Tutankhamen.

Amen Hotep III dedicated several shrines to Queen Tiye and addressed her as (The most praised lady of Grace, the lady who fills the palace with beauty, Sweet in her Love, the Regent of North and south, the Great wife of King, the Lady of both Lands).

Queen Tiye wasn’t the only prominent Nubian queen. In 23 BC Roman soldiers attacked Nubia, the Nubian resistance was led by a Queen who scholars believe is Amenshekato who even negotiated a peace treaty. Matter of fact, “KUSH” (present areas of Ethiopia, Sudan) invaded Egypt and took over power for the 150 years. But why is the 25th Dynasty never talked about, in fact the Egyptian National museum has artifacts from all dynasties but they intentionally skipped the 25th simply because it was a period of black African rule.


Nubian bride’s wedding dress


Ms. Siyama is the Nubian cultural ambassador in Kenya, she is photographed posing with the Nubian “Kuta”. It is used to cover food.


Sudanese soldiers were incorporated into the British Army in the 1880s and brought to Kenya in the early 1900s. They served for the British army in the kings African rifles during World War I against the Germans, and in World War II in places like Somalia, Abyssinia, Madagascar and Burma. Nubians played a vital role in the defense of Kenya and the development of east Africa, unable to return to Sudan, the Nubians and their families remained in Kenya and in 1912, the British government designated some 4197 acres of land for the Nubians to settle on. In 1917, the British gazetted it as land for the Sudanese askaris and their dependents. The land was located outside of what would become the city of Nairobi. The Nubians named the land, Kibra, or ‘land of forest”

The British colonial government categorized tribes in Kenya and designated the ‘Kenyan tribes’ to live on land called ‘Native Reserves’. The Nubians were intentionally categorized as ‘Detribalized natives’ by the colonial government and not a tribe native to Kenya, which denied them the right to claim land on “Native Reserves”. Over the decades, this designation has been used to exclude the Nubians from Kenyan society as well as any rights to the land of Kibra. In 1955, only 3000 people, mostly Nubians lived in Kibra. Over the past 40years, hundreds of thousands of rural migrants have flooded into Nairobi seeking jobs and Kibra has been where they have been encouraged to settle. Eventually the Nubian village of Kibra would come to be known as kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. Since Kenya’s independence, Kibera has been contested land. In 1971, a bill requiring the government to demarcate and title land parcels in kibera was passed yet was never implemented. Nubian claims to tittle deed for land in Kibera have never been recognized. Meanwhile, the hundreds of people living in kibera, including the Nubian community. Continue to be considered as squatters. Even though they settled on the land of kibera generations ago.



Having lived in Kenya for over 100 years, the Nubian community in Kenya has historically been denied recognition. Before Kenya’s independence, many Nubians carried British colonial passports and had birth certificates that stated their nationality as British. After independence, they have been one of Kenya’s most invisible and under-represented communities economically, politically and socially. Most of the Nubians weren’t recognized as citizens of Kenya after independence. Up until the most recent census conducted in mid-2009 the Nubian community was not a formally recognized tribe of Kenya. They were considered as ‘Other Kenyans’, or simply ‘Other’. Information compiled by Greg Constantine for the Nubians in Kenya project, website; http://www.nubiansinkenya.com/index.php#a=0&at=0&mi=1&pt=0&pi=2&s=0&p=-1

One of the elders that I interacted with.

On 3rd.5.2015 I completed my stay as Artist-In-Residence at Kuona Trust Art Centre in Nairobi-Kenya with a 1 day exhibition, on 15th.5.15 I also did a short presentation and exhibition of this project at 32° East in Kampala. At the end of 2015 I hope to officially release the complete Nairobi album of 25 portraits, audio podcasts and videos of Kibera/Kibra Nubian elders airing out wisdom. Im also working on exhibiting 10 selected photos from the project in some selected galleries around the world including 2 confirmed exhibitions in Germany. These portraits were produced during my 1month stay at Kuona Trust Art Centre in Nairobi as a prize after my project (Le Studio Boda-Boda) was chosen by the international jury as the winner of “New Talent Award” at the “Kampala Contemporary Art Festival / KLA ART 014” organized by http://ugandanartstrust.org.


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2 thoughts on ““QUEENS IN ESSENCE, 2015-2020” Portraits of Nubian women from Kibera- Nairobi. A work of research and photography in progress.

    • Actually Amin’s mother was Nubian, and that is the closest relationship Amin has with Nubians. Military wise, they enjoyed the highest ranks during his time in power and some of the governors are still alive.

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