In some countries, graffiti is illegal. But in Kenya, graffiti is increasingly being seen as an art form, and one that’s serving to advance popular appreciation of fine art as a whole.
For O.S. Naul of the Capital Centre, graffiti was as artistic means that could beautify the walls around the Centre. “I originally had wanted graffiti art on all 42 stone panels of the wall. But we finally had to limit it just to ten,” says the man who master-minded the ‘254 Graffiti Jam’.
The Jam started last Wednesday, 21 August when the ten graffiti artists selected to be contestants in the Jam converged on the Centre. They got to work on their respective panels on the wall, creating graffiti patterned after the designs that got them accepted to be among the finalists.
The ten included Bantu (aka Harrison Chege), Daddo Omutitti, Msale (aka Brian Masasia), Sermone (aka Sammy Mwangi), Trevor Mutesia, Wallace Maina, Faith Mutano, Mohammed Mwaruwa, Ishartlives and Smokillah (aka Douglas Kihiko).
“Their deadline was last Friday, August 23 at 5pm,” says Emma Macharia of EM Consultancy who coordinated the Jam together with O.S. Naul and his Capital Centre team.
“The following day was when they were judged by a team of four, including one of Kenya’s leading graffiti artists, Bankslave (aka Kevin Esendi), Buddha Blaze, a creative arts consultant, Edna Mamusi of Capital Centre and the arts correspondent from Business Daily,” Emma adds.
The first prize winner would receive Sh150,000; the second prize Sh50,000 and the third prize would be Sh30,000.
Plus all the contestants were to get Sh10,000 for their participation. All the cash awards came mainly from Prime Bank with a chunk coming from The Shack restaurant as well.
The other sponsors included Sparko and Basco Paints, providers of the spray paints and wall paints (respectively), Switch TV, Naivas, Telkom, Art Caffee and Capital Centre.
Finally, the winning artist got an art commission to paint a graffiti wall inside Capital Centre.
The challenge given to all of them was twofold, to create their graffiti based on the theme, ‘Nairobi: an urban city at its finest,’ and to include the red, white and blue Capital Centre logo in their artwork.
But the judges had a more stringent criteria.
“We were judging on the basis of artistic technique and its effective execution as well as the clarity of the message [meaning the theme] presented and the use of color,” says Bankslave, a graffiti artist who will soon be celebrating 20 years of doing graffiti art, not only in Kenya but all over the world.
He adds it wasn’t easy to make the final pick but first prize went to Bantu for his managing to include a wide range of colorful, iconic images of Nairobi in his graffiti.
He painted wildlife and city centre high rises as well as a matatu filled with passengers, including a sports fan blowing his vuvuzela. The Capital Centre logo was also there, discretely woven into the fabric of his art.
Winning a close second was Msale who was intent on amplifying the beauty of Nairobi’s ‘finest’, including a beautiful African woman and a garden filled with botanically-accurate flowers.
His focus was slightly less on urban elements of the city and more on what is most refined and rare about Nairobi. But his painterly technique was incomparable, so the judges felt compelled to give Msale high marks.
Finally, the third prize went to Daddo for his graffiti art which also met the criteria and equally had a stylish flare to his portrait of Nairobi.