Tuesday, 16 July 2019

WHEN GRAFFITI BECOMES FINE ART


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 15 July 2019)

Kenya art came alive last weekend at the Railway Museum where the Graffiti artists group BSQ (aka ‘Bomb Squad)’ opened their first ‘Fine Art Exhibition’ with an interactive public art invitation.

Based just behind the Museum in and outside one of the train car that they have transformed into a studio cum art gallery, the three BSQ artists, invited members of the public to not just ‘leave their mark’ on the outside of their train car but to actually participate in creating a mural using all the same art tools that BSQ do.
“We invited them to try using everything from paint [and brush] to spray paint and air brush on Saturday morning,” says Brian “Msale” Musasia, one of the BSQ trio. The other two are Kenneth ‘K-Mist4’ Otieno and Bebetu (‘Thufu B’) Ochieng.

“We’ll invite the public again to leave their mark on the BSQ car at the closing of our show on August 3rd,” adds Msale who is also exhibiting his work inside the train car together with Paul ‘Gicci’ Gichia.

Inviting us to climb up into their car (which has been beautifully spray painted by BSQ and other graffiti artists), Msale and Gicci show us around the studio-gallery which is covered literally from floor to ceiling with amazing graffiti art.
But all that graffiti is separate from the air-brush art that Msale and Gicci have created on canvas. “We wanted to show how graffiti art can be transformed into fine art,” says Msale whose calligraphic artworks on canvas also cover a big chunk of the studio’s ceiling.
“I used a brush to paint those [calligraphic pieces],” he adds as he shows us how an air-brush works compared to both a simple paint brush and a can of spray paint.
The other two BSQ artists, K-Mist and Bebetu still stick with spray paint as one will see as you come check out the Railway wall that leads from the main gate down to the actual Museum. There you will see a wonderfully rich array of graffiti art which has been spray-painted mainly by the BSQ trio, but also by graffiti artists like Swift Elegwa, Kerosh Kiruri, Stickky Muriithi, Chela Chewron and Eljah Mutua.

All of these artists have spent time at the Dust Depo Art Studio with Patrick Mukabi who mentored most of them as they developed their knowledge and skills working closely with the mild-mannered Master that Mukabi is known to be.
Paul Githia is still based at Dust Depo, but as both he and Msale like the air-brush, they decided to hang a proper art exhibition. ‘Gicci’ says he prefers the air-brush because it allows him to exercise more control over the creative process.

“It’s a technique that allows one to give more clarity of detail to their art,” adds Msale who actually graduated in fine art from Kenyatta University’s fine art department.
Msale is part of the reason KU art students have started coming to the BSQ studio to complete their three-month attachments. Currently, there are four KU students being mentored by the trio and getting exposed to a much wider range of arts activities going on in Nairobi than students can easily see from the confines of KU.
“It’s partly for them that we decided to hold this Fine Art exhibition,” confesses Msale. “We have their sketches, as well as our own, pinned up outside the train for the public to see. That way, if someone likes a sketch, they can either buy it on the spot or ask for a specific artist to do a commission for them.”

Nairobi’s graffiti art scene is growing fast, having been popularized by street artists like Bankslave, Swift and many others. Some say it exploded thanks to a British Council initiative several years back when BC invited artists to come create murals on their many walls.
The graffiti art movement was also nurtured at the GoDown Art Centre where everyone from Michael Jackson, Miriam Makeba and Lupita Nyong’o were spray-painted by Bankslave, Uhuru B, Swift and others.

Then a couple of years ago, the Railway Museum agreed to cooperate with Kenyan artists, spurred on by Patrick Mukabi who’d moved next door to the Museum and started up Dust Depo. “Street Diaries 1 and 2” were the first public exhibitions to elicit an overwhelming response from both aspiring and seasoned artists who covered the quarter-mile of wall with amazing graffiti art. And since then, a myriad of Kenyan youth has taken up graffiti art.
                                                                                       Msale Masasia of BSQ






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