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Decolonial Approaches to African Arts

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Program Quick Facts

  • Location: Nairobi, Kenya
  • Faculty Leaders: Sarah Derbew & Usha Iyer
  • Arrival Date: August 26, 2024
  • Departure Date: September 15, 2024
  • Program Cost: $600
  • Academic Prerequisites
    • Students are required to complete a one-credit preparatory course, “African Decolonial Theory,” in Spring Quarter 2023-24.
  • Activity Level: 
    • Light. Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to Kenya
  • US State Department Country Information: Kenya International Travel Information
  • Visa Information: Kenya Embassy Washington DC
  • Application Deadline: Monday, January 29, 2024 at 11:59 am PT

General Description

This course will introduce students to an East African country – Kenya – whose artists and scholars have been at the forefront of decolonial theory. Heeding the call of the esteemed Kenyan author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, whose literary manifesto Decolonizing the Mind calls on readers to reject colonial impositions and celebrate the vitality of African literature and theater, the course will teach students about decolonial literary, visual, and performance practices in Nairobi, Kenya.

The course is highly interactive and structured around field trips to literary hubs, museums, performances and film screenings, as well as interactive workshops in creative writing, storytelling, filmmaking, and musical production.

Learning Goals

The course themes that will structure our three weeks in Nairobi are: “Decolonizing the Literary Arts,” “Decolonizing the Visual Arts,” and “Decolonizing the Performing Arts.”

The learning goals are:

  • to critically examine African literature and art through the lens of decolonial theory
  • to situate African literature and art in its specific historical context
  • to identify informal sectors of knowledge production in relation to African Studies

The course will help students work towards these goals through on-site lectures, workshops, masterclasses, field trips, and collaboration with fellow Kenyan students.


This course offers an immersive study away experience in Nairobi, Kenya. As the biggest hub for arts and film in East Africa, this bustling capital city is an ideal course location. Stanford students will have the opportunity to collaborate with peers from Kenyan universities like the University of Nairobi. We will engage with key cultural institutions like the Kenya National Theatre, GoDown Arts Centre, the Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative, and also visit tourist locations like Nairobi National Park, Giraffe Center, Maasai Market, and Karura Forest.

Living and Travel Conditions

Students will live 2 to a room in a hotel for the duration of the seminar. More details will come at a later time.


Sarah Derbew

Prof. Derbew writes, teaches, and speaks widely about ancient Greece’s literary and visual heritage, considering its representations of black people that nimbly provoke - and cut through - hierarchies. Her first book - Untangling Blackness in Greek Antiquity - uses critical race theory and performance theory to sift through ancient formulations of blackness. She is currently researching the intersections between Greek and African antiquity, focusing on northeast Africa.

Usha Iyer

Prof. Iyer’s research and teaching examine film and media cultures in relation to gender, sexuality, race, and caste. Their award-winning first book, Dancing Women: Choreographing Corporeal Histories of Hindi Cinema, was a study of women’s labor and collaboration, while their current book project, Jammin’: Black and Brown Media Intimacies between India and the Caribbean, examines discourses of race and ethnicity across two locations that are rarely studied alongside each other.

Prerequisites and Expectations

Students are required to complete a one-credit preparatory course, “African Decolonial Theory,” in Spring 2024 at Stanford.

Grading Basis

Letter Grade