What you need to know:
- Graffiti art picked up steam at PAWA254 where guys like Swift9, BSQ and others attracted lots of young blood to ‘intern’ with them and learn by doing, which worked well.
- Dust Depo became the next venue where ‘Street Art’ shows invited artists like Kirush, Eljah, Msale, KayMist and B-Thufu to take on the Railway Museum’s extended wall and turn it into a graffiti art extravaganza.
TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health) created a wonderful initiative a few years back when they launched Dream Cona at Uhuru Garden and invited local artists to come to create communal artworks that proved how well visual artists can create collectively.
A few weekends ago, TICAH assembled more young local artists to create murals on another long tall wall, this time in Muthurwa not far from the Railways. Initially, the new initiative was said to be ‘launching’ a graffiti art movement which made me wince. Graffiti art has been around for more than a decade, with British Council’s ‘WAPI?’ program being one of the first major venues where many now well-established graffiti artists got their start and inspiration.
Graffiti art picked up steam at PAWA254 where guys like Swift9, BSQ and others attracted lots of young blood to ‘intern’ with them and learn by doing, which worked well.
Dust Depo became the next venue where ‘Street Art’ shows invited artists like Kirush, Eljah, Msale, KayMist and B-Thufu to take on the Railway Museum’s extended wall and turn it into a graffiti art extravaganza.
Marvellous art studio
Since then, BSQ transformed old dilapidated railway cars into a marvellous art studio that has wall-to-wall graffiti, both inside and outside the car. The place became another haven for a multitude of graffiti artists.
So to suggest TICAH together with the GoDown, Nairobi Metropolitan Services, and the Safer Nairobi Services were “launching” a graffiti art movement was slightly inaccurate. The GoDown itself was an early venue for graffiti art, with artists like Bank Slave, Smokie, Swift9 and Uhuru B having created a series of wall art portraits, most notably the one at the front entrance of Lupita Nyong’o!
Fortunately, TICAH got the message before many artists had time to protest. In its June newsletter, TICAH replaced the term graffiti art with mural art, which is good. But they still call their initiative an art ‘movement’ which they ‘launched’.
Yet Kenyan artists have been making murals in public places since the 1970s at least. Despite not being well documented, I used to see them in places like the Sarit Centre and Maendeleo ya Wanawake. So it is grand that TICAH and company are taking wall art seriously. Previously, in its earlier iteration, it was called ‘bar art’.
So there is a movement of Kenyan artists who have been at work around the clock for many years, creating wall art, whether it be called mural art or graffiti. It wasn’t ‘launched” in 2021.
One graffiti artist who could be considered part of the graffiti art or mural movement is Daddo (aka Tony Eshikumo). Like many of our leading graffiti artists today, he didn’t go to art school to learn to do graffiti.
“I was initially inspired by matatu art,” he says. After that, he met up with Swift9 who advised him to visit PAWA254. There he met many artists, including Smokillah who took him under his wing and showed him basic elements of graffiti painting.
An artist who, like many graffiti guys, is always looking for fresh walls on which to paint, Daddo says he has been painting a lot in Korogocho in recent times. His most acclaimed mural is the series of portraits that he made of the record-breaking runner Kipchoge.
Since then, Daddo has been busy practising his art everywhere from Mathare and Baba Ndogo to Garden City and Capital Centre.
But the most recent wall art that Daddo has done is one he created with fellow graffiti artist Ibra (aka Ibrahim Ndungu) and in collaboration with the brand new Sanaa Center.
“The Sanaa Center was created by two musicians, who want to address problems affecting Mathare people most urgently. But they want to do it through art,” says Daddo as he takes us to the wall where he and Ibra recently complete graffiti with a powerful message.
“The founders of the Sanaa Center [Micko Migra and Anthem Republic] wanted us to create graffiti that expressed their concern about the high cost of health care,” says Daddo.
“The prices of drugs have shot sky-high. Yet most people here can’t even afford to buy masks,” he adds.
Acknowledging that their mural was a joint effort, he says he’s been deliberating with Micko, Anthem, Ibra, and the graffiti project director Kid October (aka John Mwaura) since the Sanaa Center was launched last November.
“It’s meant to send a clear message,” says Daddo who has already found that locals stop, see, and agree with the message on the wall.
“There is a need for equality in [Kenya’s] health care system. People here can’t even afford pain killers, leave alone vaccines, hand sanitisers, or masks. They need help,” Daddo says.