street art in Senegal and kenya

Street art is taken for granted in many African countries. Small shops everywhere are decorated with pictures of their merchandise. Scissors depict tailors; heads with beautiful hairstyles are hairdressers; images of cows and bowls of milk are milk shops. This applies particularly to Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Street art in the “Medina” neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal (photo: © Aida Grovestins)

Mamadou Boye Diallo founded the NGO “Yataal Art” in 2010, which means “spreading art” in Wolof, the local language. His mission is to promote and support talented young people in the area. In addition, he has invited more than a hundred artists from all over the world to paint in his neighborhood since 2010.

He is especially enthusiastic about the impact and exposure of the street art. “Street art is for everyone, it’s free and you don’t have to get all neat or dressed up and go to a museum or gallery. You just come across it on the street and really everyone can see it! “ It is also a way of preserving the historic architecture of the neighborhood. Themes such as the environment, begging, hygiene and malaria are addressed through the art. At first, it wasn’t always easy to convince homeowners to have their walls painted, but as the project caught on, they didn’t want to fall behind their neighbors.

Street art in the “Medina” neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal (photo: © Aida Grovestins)

One of the most recent murals is a collaboration between Congolese-French artist Kouka Ntadi and Barkinado Bocoum, a Senegalese artist. The mural is part of an art project called ‘The PlayWall’, an artistic exchange program organized by ALT DEL. Ntadi painted abstract portraits of African warriors in black and white and Bocoum added brightly colored portraits. As an artist, Ntadi likes the idea of sharing the neighborhood with the commercial painters who work for the hairdressers and milk shops. He says: “In Africa there is not really a division. It’s not like Europe or the US where art is snobbery. There you will be seen as less of an artist if you also make marketing designs.

Street art Barkinado Bocoum and Kouka Ntadi Dakar Senegal (Photo © Aida Grovestins)

Bocoum talks about the impact of street art: “Local residents are proud of their murals. Places that were previously polluted, where people urinated have turned into meeting places where people gather and drink tea. In addition, there is a discussion about the images, so it is a place of awareness and generates a critical eye. “

Bocoum has always dreamed about painting large walls. His life has not always been easy: “My parents did not support me to become an artist, so I left for Dakar alone and rented a small room with only a bed and a chair. I worked around the clock drawing on A4 sheets and pasting them together to create a great piece of art. My dream was to make large works of art so that you cannot ignore my message. I still use a collage technique that forces you to look from different perspectives.” All of the different angles, according to Bocoum, symbolize the idea that truth consists of multiple perspectives. “Everyone has different emotions and there are many sides to everyone, so don’t be tempted by the picture someone paints of oneself on social media, that’s just one perspective. My work is a call to not take things at face value.”

Street art in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo © Aida Grovestins)

Steve Kyenze runs the Kibera Graffiti Center in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. Kyenze’s parents died when he was young, he left school early and ended up on the streets. He was starving, which forced him into the criminal circuit and he started using hard drugs to escape his situation. He became a well-known drug trafficker and gangster but in 2012 decided to change his ways for the better. He came to understand that a crime against one person is a crime against all. Realizing that his criminal actions had caused him a lot of pain and grief, he now tries to help society as an artist. Kyenze: “My past is long and dark, but art has helped me overcome it. From gangster to mentor, from criminal to social leader, that is the power of art.”

Photo: Steve Kyenze Kibera Graffiti Center Nairobi

With many of the young people he supervises, he recognizes a version of his own story. They often have nothing to do, a lack of skills and income. There is also police intimidation in the slums. These factors often lead to crime. “My mission is to speak with pride about the vulnerable youth of the slums by associating them with creativity. We involve children mostly in graffiti, because it gives them confidence and pride.“

Photo: Steve Kyenze Kibera Graffiti Center Nairobi

Much of Kibera street art is about peace and love because there is a big problem in the slums where tribalism and violence reign. Other street art is about human rights and extrajudicial executions, but also about the beauty and diversity in Kenya. Kibera street art has become iconic through social media. “We have always been associated with advocacy for peace and human rights. This means that our message has been successful,” Kyenze says with a smile.

Barkinado Bocoum and Steve Kyenze are both self-critical and try to challenge a large audience to rethink their view of the world through street art.

Photo: Maasai Mbili, Nairobi, Kenya

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