But not all the stamps fall so clearly into this category. Stamps for schools and businesses, stamps that for 'copy' or 'paid'. Stamps that seem total enigmas; 'Hit Squad Ent' and 'Smarm'. We can only guess at why they were commissioned, used once and then abandoned. Do these institutions even exist? Are these stamps all that is left behind?
Seen as a whole, these stamps offer an intriguing perspective on a small part of Kenyan administration. On the one hand they represent a system of bureaucracy, seemingly inherited from the British colonial past. Yet, they also seem to be the very opposite of that, an appropriation of a particular aesthetic, a knowing instrumentalisation of a specific visual register. This sense of ambiguity makes this archive an imaginative space, and a position from which to further reflect on an African-European encounter.
KENYA NAVY SICK BAY: A VERNACULAR ARCHIVE OF HANDMADE STAMPS
Kenya Navy Sick Bay is an installation based on a collection of 300 hand-made institutional stamps. Bought from a stamp-carver in Mombasa (KEN) in 2011, the collection can be read as a vernacular archive, a corpus of signs and images produced by a Mombasa-based stamp carver over a number of years.
These were the stamps commissioned by clients, but then left behind. Exactly why they were not taken is not clear and this specific provenance of the stamps lends them a sense of intrigue and mystery. For some, such as the eponymous Kenya Navy Sick Bay stamp, it seems likely that the stamp was produced for a one-time, specific use, in this case, probably to forge a sick note. The stamps for other authority figures, school headmasters, police officers, lawyers and local politicians, could well have been used for similar uses.