Msale Masasia had no idea that when he, and his other two BSQ comrades, came up with the idea of a five-day Graffiti Festival ‘Rangi za East’, it would attract so many local and international artists.
They never expected that they would run out of wall space, given the enormous length of the Railway Museum wall, nearly 470 meters. After all, it ran all the way from the front gate of the Museum, down and around the old railway cars, finally reaching the Dust Depo’s Art Studio where Msale, KayMist (aka Ken Otieno) and Thufu B (aka Bebeto Ochieng) first met and started doing graffiti art together. That is also where they decided, since they worked so well as a team, to call themselves simply BSQ, short for Bomb Squad, from then on.
The trio has been holding open ‘houses’ for artists to come and paint or exhibit with them ever since they rented a whole railway car which they transformed into their graffiti artists’ studio.
But Nairobi has not seen anything close to a full street art festival since the first two ‘Street Diaries’ projects were held back in 2016 and 2017. That is when Patrick Mukabi, the master mentor of upcoming local painters, first approached the Railway Museum curator, Maurice Baraza, and asked if artists could paint the bare brick walls.
“It took some persuading,” recalls Keroch Kiruri who understood Baraza wanted to know how the painting could be relevant to the Museum. That is how Keroch, another graffiti artist and former Kenyatta University fine arts graduate, came to paint the story of ‘the Maneaters of Tsavo’ right across the way from the Museum’s entrance.
Artists have been creating beautiful graffiti art on that wall ever since.
But once BSQ agreed on holding ‘Rangi za East’ from Wednesday, 30th October through last Sunday, 3rd November, they made the dramatic decision to destroy all that graffiti art with black paint.
“We did it because we wanted to make space for new artists to try their hand at graffiti,” says Msale. When asked if that didn’t feel like a major sacrifice since a lot of the latest graffiti had been created by BSQ, he responded sagaciously.
“We know impermanence is the nature of graffiti art,” he adds. “It comes and goes, so one anticipates that will happen.”
But even as they covered over all those artworks, they didn’t expect to see artists being turned away for lack of wall space. It seems that painters like Daddo, Chela, Bankslave and Warembo Wasanii had been there the first day and claimed a brick panel or two as their own.
By Sunday, most of the walls were fully covered with amazing graffiti art. One young artist who calls himself ‘Think’ (aka Allan Kioko) created hands shaping his name in sign-language. Daddo (aka Tony Blair Omutitii) also painted his nickname, only he designed it in English lettering. And still another artist who signed his art ‘Mr Detail’ painted two portraits, one of Malcolm X, the other Martin Luther King, Jr with bold graffiti lettering in between which read ‘Freedom’. Meanwhile, the artist known at Mutua arts also painted a portrait, his of Bob Marley.
There were more female graffiti artists this year than during the ‘Street Diaries’, a fact reflecting the rapid pace in which women as well as young Kenyan men are getting ‘bit’ by the graffiti ‘bug’. Joan Otieno had a brick panel to herself while members of her group, Warembo Wasanii also had a panel of their own. Iddah, Yvonne, Brenda, Louraine, Geke, Easter and Risper all had a hand in creating a bold sign stating ‘Women Power’.
But the women weren’t the only ones creating collaboratively. Msale had two ‘collabo’s’, one with Uhuru Brown, one of the so-called ‘first generation’ of graffiti artists. The other was with Bebeto in which Msale painted a portrait of his friend, Washe Arthur. “I painted Washe because he is the one who introduced me to Patrick Mukabi and Dust Depo. From there I met [graffiti artists] Kaymist and Bebeto,” says Msale who is also a Kenyatta University fine arts graduate.
But if Msale and BSQ were startled by all the interest their Graffiti Festival generated among local artists, they were even more surprised by all the internationals who showed up and wanted to paint. “We’ve had artists from France, Switzerland, America and even Italy,” says Msale who plans to take Rangi za East next to Kampala and elsewhere after that.