Kenya: graffiti art spreads throughout Nairobi

TICAH (Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health) created a wonderful initiative a few years ago when they launched Dream Cona at Uhuru Garden and invited local artists to come and create joint works of art that proved how visual artists can create collectively.

A few weekends ago, TICAH brought together more young local artists to create murals on another long and high wall, this time in Muthurwa, not far from the railroads. Initially, the new initiative was supposed to “kick off” a graffiti art movement, which made me wince. Graffiti art has been around for over a decade, with the “WAPI? From the British Council. program being one of the first major venues where many now established graffiti artists got their start and inspired.

Graffiti art took off at PAWA254 where guys like Swift9, BSQ and others attracted a lot of young people to ‘intern’ with them and learn by doing which has worked well.

Dust Depo became the next venue where “Street Art” shows invited artists like Kirush, Eljah, Msale, KayMist and B-Thufu to tackle the extended wall of the Railway Museum and turn it into an art extravaganza of the graffiti.

Wonderful art studio

Since then, BSQ has transformed old ramshackle railroad cars into a wonderful art studio that has wall-to-wall graffiti on the inside and outside of the car. The place has become another refuge for a multitude of graffiti artists.

So to suggest that TICAH with GoDown, Nairobi Metropolitan Services, and Nairobi Safer Services were “starting” a graffiti art movement was slightly inaccurate. The GoDown itself has been a favorite haunt for graffiti art, with artists like Bank Slave, Smokie, Swift9 and Uhuru B creating a series of wall art portraits, including the one at the main entrance to Lupita Nyong’o!

Fortunately, TICAH got the message before many artists had time to protest. In its June newsletter, TICAH changed the term graffiti art to wall art, which is good. But they still call their initiative an artistic “movement” that they “started”.

Yet Kenyan artists have been making murals in public places since at least the 1970s. Although they are not well documented, I saw them in places like the Sarit Center and Maendeleo ya Wanawake. So it’s great that TICAH and his company take wall art seriously. Previously, in its previous version, it was called “bar art”.

So there is a movement of Kenyan artists who have been working around the clock for many years, creating wall art, whether called wall art or graffiti. It was not “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 great graffiti artists today, he didn’t go to art school to learn graffiti.

Initial inspiration

“I was first inspired by matatu art,” he says. After that he met Swift9 who advised him to visit PAWA254. There he meets many artists, including Smokillah who takes him under his wing and shows him the basic elements of graffiti painting.

An artist who, like many graffiti artists, is always on the lookout for cool walls to paint on, Daddo says he has painted a lot in Korogocho lately. His most acclaimed mural is the series of portraits he made of record runner Kipchoge.

Since then, Daddo has been busy practicing his art everywhere from Mathare and Baba Ndogo to Garden City and Capital Center.

But the most recent wall art Daddo has made is the one he created with fellow graffiti artist Ibra (aka Ibrahim Ndungu) and in collaboration with the brand new Sanaa Center.

“The Sana’a Center was created by two musicians, who urgently want to tackle the issues affecting the people of Mathare. But they want to do it through art,” says Daddo as he takes us to the wall where he and Ibra recently finished graffiti with a powerful message.

“The founders of the Sanaa Center [Micko Migra and Anthem Republic] wanted us to create graffiti expressing concern about the high cost of health care, ”says Daddo.

“Drug prices have skyrocketed. Yet most people here cannot even afford to buy masks,” he adds.

Recognizing that their mural was a joint effort, he says he has deliberated with Micko, Anthem, Ibra, and the director of the Kid October graffiti project (aka John Mwaura) since the Sanaa Center launched last November.

“It’s supposed 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 relievers, vaccines, hand sanitizers, or masks. They need help, ”says Daddo.

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