Paintings on the wall: Kenyan street-art graffiti culture

Not so long ago, several anonymous graffiti artists caused a great hullabaloo on the streets of Nairobi. Their mission, to mobilize Kenyans for change in last year’s general elections. The Ma-Vulture graffiti revolution hoped to encourage Kenyans to ditch politicians widely viewed as corrupt, ineffective and divisive.

paintings on the wall zuru kenya

paintings on the wall zuru kenya 1

paintings on the wall zuru kenya 2

The political murals, all done in the dead of the night, painted Kenyan politicians as Vultures; describing the scandals that have engulfed Kenya and the political mischief practiced by Kenyan politicians among other shoe-pinching-political issues.

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Despite being popular in some Kenyan neighborhoods, graffiti culture has often not been appreciated by the public, viewing it as vandalism and a symbol of rebellion but this is slowly changing.  From featuring in small kiosks/shops and neighborhood walls, graffiti artists are now making a name for themselves doing bigger and better things.

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“Mathare Wall” by Bankslave

Along with the Ma-Vulture revolution was the Peace Train Project which yet again, saw graffiti artists come together in partnership with the Kibera Walls for Peace team to create a HUGE peace mural along the entire side of a 10-car commuter train which passes by Kibera. This project was especially vital as Kibera is where rioters tore up the train tracks during the 2007 post election violence. The artwork featured messages of peace for the upcoming election with the main phrase, “Tuwache Ukabila, Tuwache Ubaguzi, Tuishi Kwa Amani”

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Then there was the spray for change Project with Basco Paints. The manufacturer of Duracoat worked hand in hand with top Kenyan graffiti artists to create images of a New Kenya on ‘canvas’. The canvas, being the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, was an ideal backdrop to showcase a new Kenya to Kenyans from all walks of life, as well as international visitors. This project served to promote the artists, our country and the voice of a new generation to Kenyans and the world at large.

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painting on the wall zuru kenya 20Spray for change additionally, hoped to drive urban art to become a way of beautifying neighborhoods and a form of sustainable income generation for up and coming artists. Delivery trucks for Basco Paints were commissioned as canvases for these artists to showcase their work, creating “mobile” art galleries for Kenyans to experience.

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The artist that received the most votes for their New Kenya art piece, Swift9 walked away with a cash prize and paint for a community initiative of their selection, totaling Kshs 250,000.

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9
Swift9 (center) next t his winning piece of 800m Olympic champion, David Rudisha, with Basco Paints MD, Kamlesh Shah (right) and Head of Marketing, Altaf Jiwa (left)

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9

“Rudisha represents Kenya’s sports and athletics. Everybody rejoices when Kenya wins, no matter where you are in the country. It unites us.” Swift9

Swift9

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9 My style is Urban Ethnikk.  I’ve been involved in numerous graffiti projects and workshops in Kenya and around the world.  I want to bring graffiti art to the mainstream audience in East Africa and the global graffiti community. My portfolio encompasses exhibitions and collaborations, group and live demos that I have been a part of locally and globally.

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9

painting on the wall zuru kenya swift9other renown Kenyan Graffiti artists include;

Tyso

painting on the wall zuru kenya tyso

I learnt different art forms from watching art students when I was younger, but my true love for art was born at Words and Pictures (WAPI) when I touched on graffiti. With my high school deskmate J Kello, we formed our crew and the next thing we knew we won a prize for the best graffiti piece at WAPI. Since then doing graffiti and design became my livelihood.

painting on the wall zuru kenya tyso

painting on the wall zuru kenya tyso painting on the wall zuru kenya tyso painting on the wall zuru kenya tyso

Bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

My preferred medium of expression is spray paint. As part of the Nairobi underground scene, I have done massive murals all over Nairobi. I’ve  collaborated with 60Nozzles, Gas Crew, Spray-Uzi (Kenya) and Ghetto-Pimps Crew (Germany). I just came from completing the Kibera train graffiti project where I painted the first graffiti on a train in Kenya, if not Eastern Africa.

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

painting on the wall zuru kenya bankslave

Esen

painting on the wall zuru kenya esen

My style is 3D graffiti. My drive is to put the East African graffiti scene on the world map. I’m in one local and two international crews, 3WG (3rd World Graff) which I co-founded with my fellow crewmate Wise 2,  TPA (The Public Animals),  runs with SC (Silver Caps Worldwide) which started in Barcelona.

painting on the wall zuru kenya esen

painting on the wall zuru kenya esen painting on the wall zuru kenya esen painting on the wall zuru kenya esen

Wise Two

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

My art is a fusion of stencils, and psychedelic and African graffiti patterns. Through showcasing my art in various international exhibitions and events, I’m working to create awareness of the Kenyan graffiti art movement amongst the global graffiti community and play an integral part in bringing graffiti art to the mainstream East African audience.

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

painting on the wall zuru kenya wise2

Kerosh

painting on the wall zuru kenya kerosh

Graffiti has to be relevant, aesthetically appealing and full of content that is thought provoking .This form of art requires a very conscious mind, concrete research, daring charm and guts.

painting on the wall zuru kenya kerosh

painting on the wall zuru kenya kerosh

Shan

painting on the wall zuru kenya shan

I have worked and been a part of G.A.S- Graffiti Artists and I.C.G- Intense Cities Group. I’m part of a crew called Banditry Unlimited Customz (BUC) who deal with customizing items through art. Graffiti is the future of ART, and with avenues and platforms such as the one accorded by WAPI, its acceptance and growth as an art form is solely inevitable.

painting on the wall zuru kenya shan

painting on the wall zuru kenya shan

painting on the wall zuru kenya shan

Smokilah

painting on the wall zuru kenya smokilah

I’m a professional graffiti artist who specializes in mural art. I’m part of Spray Uzi, one of the most prolific graffiti Crews in Nairobi including members such as Swift9, Uhuru Brown and Bankslave. We are responsible for splashing Nairobi with beautiful graffiti Murals that you see all over. Currently, I’m stationed at Pawa254 Hub.

painting on the wall zuru kenya smokilah

painting on the wall zuru kenya smokilah

painting on the wall zuru kenya smokilah

painting on the wall zuru kenya smokilah

Uhuru B

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

A mixed media and graphic artist, my name Uhuru means freedom and stands for (Upendo, Halisi, Undugu, Riziki, Utu) translated to “The importance of love and the brotherhood of our well-being“. My own story manifests confluence and the idea of people coming together as one. I promote messages of truth, emancipation, spirituality, and freedom through my art.

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

painting on the wall zuru kenya uhuru

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons graffiti is misunderstood as an art form is because it is often done illegally and the artists are often secretive about their real identities. In fact, getting a graffiti art trainer is not easy and one ‘has to know someone who knows some’ to reach them, as most of them do not use their real names to tag.

paintings on the wall zuru kenya

Kenyan artists are using this expressive form of art as a medium to spread positive messages. Street art is about the message behind it. Its not about what they are doing but the point they are trying to bring across.

There will never be a stop to graffiti, it is an epidemic. Cannot be stopped. No matter what there is no cure.

“Street art is about the message behind it, it’s not about what they’re doing but about the point they’re trying to bring across,” – See more at: http://www.monthlymortonian.com/arts-and-entertainment/2014/01/13/graffiti-art-or-vandalism/#sthash.BBA87y1n.dpuf

Still many think it is not criminal, but a way to spread a positive message.

“Street art is about the message behind it, it’s not about what they’re doing but about the point they’re trying to bring across,” senior Eddie Lopez said

Street art is a big thing in Chicago. Especially in the more urbanized areas like Pilsen, North and South sides. It is so popular because there are many communities who do support graffiti because it keeps the youth busy. They think of it as art.

“Street art brings out the culture in the community, it is beautiful if you ask me,” senior Alexander Herrera said

“Graffiti is art because art comes in many different perspectives, it’s awesome,” sophomore Ericka Bucio said

It’s free and it’s important.

“Graffiti is art because graffiti isn’t sold for millions of dollars, its out for everyone to see. It’s not in a gallery for certain people to notice and pay millions of dollars for it. Graffiti is free for everyone to see,” senior Kimberly Rodriguez said

Art comes in many different shapes and sizes. Art is what comes from one and expressed onto something else. “The art of being Art”

“Graffiti is too powerful, it cannot be stopped. Art can’t be stopped,” senior Eddie Lopez said.

The city does almost everything to stop graffiti but do we see any change? They can enforce laws and it might sleep for a while but graffiti will always find a way.

“There will never be a stop to graffiti, it is an epidemic. Cannot be stopped. No matter what there is no cure,” former Cicero graffiti writer Slite One said

Graffiti is seen as become to be intertwined with hip-hop culture and modern styles derived from New York city subway graffiti in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was on trains for everyone to see. “Train Bombing” it trended as. The meaning was “Bombing the system” they were rebellious. Eventually became a problem that New York was trying to avoid. Trains will be clean at the end of the day but at sunrise these trains were filled with colors again. The city never slept. Writers never gave up; they had to then take drastic measures. Graffiti on trains was dying. Graffiti on train carts would cost the city thousands of dollars to clean. Later they started protecting the train yards more.

“Having a different name gives you a feeling of freedom. You can say what you please and do what you want to do without anyone knowing who you are. You have a different identity. Like having a second life, some of us like our second life better,” former Cicero graffiti writer Slite One said

– See more at: http://www.monthlymortonian.com/arts-and-entertainment/2014/01/13/graffiti-art-or-vandalism/#sthash.8tcOmD4g.dpuf

Still many think it is not criminal, but a way to spread a positive message.

“Street art is about the message behind it, it’s not about what they’re doing but about the point they’re trying to bring across,” senior Eddie Lopez said

Street art is a big thing in Chicago. Especially in the more urbanized areas like Pilsen, North and South sides. It is so popular because there are many communities who do support graffiti because it keeps the youth busy. They think of it as art.

“Street art brings out the culture in the community, it is beautiful if you ask me,” senior Alexander Herrera said

“Graffiti is art because art comes in many different perspectives, it’s awesome,” sophomore Ericka Bucio said

It’s free and it’s important.

“Graffiti is art because graffiti isn’t sold for millions of dollars, its out for everyone to see. It’s not in a gallery for certain people to notice and pay millions of dollars for it. Graffiti is free for everyone to see,” senior Kimberly Rodriguez said

Art comes in many different shapes and sizes. Art is what comes from one and expressed onto something else. “The art of being Art”

“Graffiti is too powerful, it cannot be stopped. Art can’t be stopped,” senior Eddie Lopez said.

The city does almost everything to stop graffiti but do we see any change? They can enforce laws and it might sleep for a while but graffiti will always find a way.

“There will never be a stop to graffiti, it is an epidemic. Cannot be stopped. No matter what there is no cure,” former Cicero graffiti writer Slite One said

Graffiti is seen as become to be intertwined with hip-hop culture and modern styles derived from New York city subway graffiti in the 1980’s and 90’s. It was on trains for everyone to see. “Train Bombing” it trended as. The meaning was “Bombing the system” they were rebellious. Eventually became a problem that New York was trying to avoid. Trains will be clean at the end of the day but at sunrise these trains were filled with colors again. The city never slept. Writers never gave up; they had to then take drastic measures. Graffiti on trains was dying. Graffiti on train carts would cost the city thousands of dollars to clean. Later they started protecting the train yards more.

“Having a different name gives you a feeling of freedom. You can say what you please and do what you want to do without anyone knowing who you are. You have a different identity. Like having a second life, some of us like our second life better,” former Cicero graffiti writer Slite One said

– See more at: http://www.monthlymortonian.com/arts-and-entertainment/2014/01/13/graffiti-art-or-vandalism/#sthash.8tcOmD4g.dpuf

This year political activists have gone creative: etching their messages on walls, lamp posts and even roads. – See more at: http://www.internewskenya.org/article.php?id=267#sthash.ge8w1iq7.dpuf
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10 thoughts on “Paintings on the wall: Kenyan street-art graffiti culture”

  1. This is all excellent. My daughter-Darcy Best: dmbest12@stl.edu is currently near Nairobi for a semester abroad and is putting together a blog with other students at St. Lawrence University about Kenyan street art. I am forwarding your web address to her and wonder if anyone there would be interested in getting in touch with her. They want pictures and any cultural context to share with other students. Thank you for the great information and names.

  2. Hi Zuru Kenya, i have found your work very very informative, i am undertaking a research on Graffiti in Kenya in my post graduate studies. Would you be kind enough to avail some photography for analysis? i am giving my email address below for further communication.

    1. Hey Irene would be glad to assist. Kindly get in touch on the contacts page with further details with the kind of photography work you are looking into. Thanks

  3. Hi guys ,am an artist too and passionate about spray painting but i really dont know where to get the spray paints ,,kindly help me

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