Glass factory in Kenya: creative instinct and jobs

August 2006 -

Since 2000, a designer from the Netherlands, Arnout Visser, has been working with local glass blowers in a glass factory in Kitengala, Kenya, on his Bushglass project. The consumer glasswork is exhibited and sold in Kenya and Europe.

The glass factory was founded about ten years ago by Anselm Croze, a Kenyan German. His hippie parents once woke up in Kitengala, a village near Nairobi. Croze has trained unemployed men in the region as glassblowers, providing their families with income. He selected a representative sample of the population of Kenya, including Masai. Their income amounts to three to five euros per person per day, which is above average. Visser pays the men working on his project himself as part of the multiple-year project he is financing. "Not as aid to a developing country. More as a bit of idealism and a lot of creative instinct."

Visser explains: "A project like Bushglass can only succeed if you return regularly. I teach the blowers to work together so that they can make technically-complicated and commercially interesting glass shapes. I sketch my designs on a blackboard. We have a bite to eat and something to drink, and then we think up a strategy together. And tell jokes. The things you make are more beautiful when you are having fun."


Three objects made in the Kitengala glass factory

Kenya is straining under the useless generosity of the West, which continues to send worn-out clothes and shoes and outdated glasses. The local tailors and cobblers as well as the little existing industry the country can call its own have lost their means of existence. Visser made a counter move by having a lampshade made from the lenses in Western glasses. Masses of dumped Coca Cola bottles and antifreeze-blue Bombay Sapphire gin bottles were transformed by the Bushblowers into carafes, vases and an old-fashioned desk lamp. Former prostitutes string bead necklaces from what used to be brown beer bottles and blue Sapphire bottles.

Kenya loses some five to six hundred people to AIDS each day, leaving many AIDS orphans. Visser uses condom objects in an attempt to dispel the taboo on contraceptives. A glass mould of a condom, which also serves as a dildo or a vase, can be coated with latex. A few hours later you can roll off the self-made condom. “In the mean time, the makers and their families have been giggling while discussing the vase in detail.”

Bushglass is being shown through October 8th as part of the Wereldverbeteraars exhibition in the Dutch National Glass Museum in Leerdam.