Smokillah is a graffiti artist based in Nairobi. He is a member of the group of graffiti artists knowna s Spray Uzi. Check out his video interview at Spray for Change.
You can read more about graffiti in Kenya at Kibera Walls for Peace and Kibera Hamlets. Here’s an article on Kenya’s graffiti train and a video (about the use of graffiti to comment on the 2013 election process).
1. Where are you from, What was it like growing up?
2. What kind of hustles were people involved in?
3. How did you start doing graffiti? How did you learn to do graffiti? What does graffiti mean to you? How do you see it fitting in with hip hop?
I started doing graffitism on (PSV Matatu) after high school, Graffity just came to me and started practising alot with the spray can. Graffiti is spiritual Art. It always fits because the artforms go together. Rappers have been doing graffity backgrounds since the 80’s
4. What is ‘politicking’?
Most probably talking about stuff that builds you as a person
5. What is ‘mental slavery’?
Being entrapped by your thoughts that misguide you
6. Do you have a philosophy of education?
You can learn everything so its up to you if you want to or not
7. You mention in your Spray for Change interview that you “do things that other people are scared of doing or are not interested in.” What sources do you draw inspiration from? Are there any sources that you think would surprise people?
My inspiration comes from my surrounding am a product of my environment ‘’african Nostalgia’’
8. Where do you see people having “space to express themselves”? Are there any organizations/communities that you see building these kinds of spaces?
There’s lots of space especially in the city centre these buildings have space but the Nairobi Council has put up billboards for profit. It sad don’t you think?
9. How do you feel graffiti art is different from other forms of visual art?
Style! In a major way, grafitti has class other forms of visual art are just that visual art
10. How do you think the placement of graffiti in public spaces, rather than in galleries or wherever, changes the nature and politics of graffiti?
Banksy said ‘’if you do graffiti indoors that’s interior design’’ so graffity is for walls
11. Graffiti, by nature, being in public spaces, how does you, as an artist, feel about the art being out there for the public to see, welcome or unwelcome? What makes you decide to put graffiti where you do?
I feel good about because we do the artform not just for us as writers but for the public also meaning they don’t have to go to galleries to see art. We bring the art work to them
12. Also understanding many times graffiti is also welcomed by people, please talk about what kind of agreements you have with people who willingly allow you to do graffiti where they live/work, etc.
Who supports the work you are doing?
We often agree on excecution, meaning the job has to come out well and how long the job eill and will finish within the period of time we agreed upon
Different people suprisingly cooperate.
13. Do you find yourself a target of police harassment? What would you say to people who see graffiti as “visual terrorism”?
Definitely. I even think I’m being followed around but am not sure. Its just phobia for the artform. Graffiti strikes minds and thoughts provoke
14. How do politics and your own personal values impact your work?
Politics is just a dirty game and so my work keeps values in every vice that surrounds me.
15. What is “tagging”? How is it different from graffiti art or murals?
Is part of the art form. When a writter passes an open area he’ll definitely want to leave a mark and that is his/her graffity name tagging is done quick, rural pieces may take days or weeks
The biggest role is improvement
17. Do you see graffiti art as a possible way to re-vitalize, beautify, and/or support local communities?
Definately, Grafiiti has a strong essence and where we do it we definately touch souls. Its just a way of letting communities know we can do better
18. What’s a place you would love to work on but haven’t had an opportunity to yet? (Is there any public space you would love to create graffiti for if you had the chance?)
Any or one of the billboards on the city centre
19. Could you talk about the “Unga Revolution”?
It is basically about food scarcity, and food is expensive in supermarkets so its pressing the government to regulate prices.
20. Is there a language, or languages, associated with graffiti art? Or could you talk about different styles and approaches to graffiti art you have seen?
The language used is style. I think even writer has a style to be able to communicate to fellow writers where he is at and his craft
21. Could you talk about different historical figures you see being repeated in Graffiti art, and talk a little about their significance?
Mahatma ghandi, Haille selasie they were figures who inspire free spirits and as a writer I should be free to express myself at any given time.
22a. How do you see graffiti art in dialogue with public spaces? Do you see graffiti art re-imagining public spaces, or otherwise creatively engaging with them?
Definitely, as I said graffity strikes minds so where else than public places to strike public minds
22b. Is graffiti only for urban spaces? Where are some unusual places you have encountered graffiti?
Mostly because graffity is street art and upcountry folks have no idea what paint can do. Most only in nairobi streets
23. Are you part of any graffiti organizations?
Only spray uzi, I think we are legends period. We try to give graffiti a good name but we still kick street places and tags now Cooperate organizations are interested in us because of our principals and all.
24. How are graffiti artists making money from their work today?
Contract jobs, Mostly commisioned jobs from difffernt institutions cooperate companies known restaurants, churches and graffiti enthuasusts
25. Who else do you see ‘doing’ hip hop, other artists, deejays, dancers, activists, hustlas, etc.? How are you coming together with these different varieties of hip hop’s people?
Mostly we get together at hip hop gigs in and around the city where hip hop is more vibrant and where it is vital
26. What are some obstacles you have encountered during your involvement in the arts/activist scene(s)?
None, its been smooth because we are protected.
27. How have women contributed to graffiti art in East Africa? (name, if you know of any artists or supporters of graffiti, etc.)
Not so much, there are a few but I mostly they get on but fall of quick
28. Could you describe some positive things you have seen hip hop communities doing? Whether it is artists sharing resources, a place to stay, getting linked with work
Mostly links like judge hooked us up and am a graffity writer he’s a rapper. So yeah and resources too. We work together as a company
29. What hustles are you working on now? is there such a thing as hip hop jobs? ama only hustling? (Talk about any of your projects, visual arts-based or otherwise) What sort of opportunities has the graffiti world provided you with?
I don’t hustle no more, Spray uzi alredy established , we got people for that, what are hip hop jobs getting that cooperate money for sure.
30. What are some of the obstacles/problems facing young people in Kenya today (zote, Lodwar to Dando to Westi?)
Unemployement, platforms to discover their inner abilities i.e resource centres
31. How are you interacting with artists across the globe and also particularly in East Afrika?
Social media is a big contributor e.g Facebook
32. What sort of positive things do you see happening with young people in Kenya?
Creativity is the most powerful weapon youths have right now.
33. How can people learn more about your work and other projects you are involved in?
am a pro graffiti artist have been in the art for about ten years noe, My crew is spray uzi, One of the most Prolific crews in Nairobi
17 Hours ago via Mobile
When I lived in Kibera, I shared my modest crib with Onyango, Kimani, Kipngeno, Mutisya and Abdi. Abdi and Kimani shared a bed because Abdi was new to the city. The only thing that seperated our “bedrooms” was a “leso”, an old dirty bed sheet and a black polythene sheet that Mutisya had picked on his way from Industrial area. We shared everything and we showered in shifts and on alternate Sundays. Life was hard but we were happy.
Kimani pushed mkoko at Marigiti and in the evening he will come home with a mixture of almost everything that was sold at the market. From it, we made a stew. Everyday it tasted distinctly different and authentic even though the ingredients remained the same, the quantity varied. Sometimes the pilipili or dania will be in plenty hence the taste of the day. We listened to Kameme together and KBC salamu za hodi hodi together and shared ushindi bar soap for washing and geisha Kubwa for bathing. Played draught at weekends.
In short we were more than brothers, and we remained so for 5 years until the elections were called. It was time to part ways. We got new identities jaluo, mkamba, kaleo, sapere, walalo and Banye. Identifying ourselves with the rich politicians we shared a language with was the thing, not the poor we had been with for years. The wealthy man from my tribe won the election I headed to the same room I had shared for five years with people of my class, albeit with some election posters to deco our crib. Mheshimiwa headed for Grand Regency to celebrate. That night we slept without food.
After a while things came back to normal we were back to sharing everything with Abdi, musyoka, Onyango etc. Whenever there was bereavement amongst us, we all attended. Just the poor people. Mheshimiwa was busy on the beach. But when Mheshimiwa got bereaved I mourned for him for weeks, even though I won’t be let to go past his gate. When he engaged in Corruption, I defended him fiercely just because he spoke my Language.
…to cut short, I voted for mheshimiwa, he lives big but life for me, Onyango, Kimani, Abdi is still the same. What if we had voted for one of us regardless of his tribe, could life be different???? Identify with your own true tribe. RICH or POOR are the real tribes of Kenya. However the latter are the Majority and are ruled by the minority. Poor people rise up and fight for your rights Did you know the only common thing between you and your much cherished Mheshimiwa is the language. Nothing else NOTHING!!!!!!!! But the list of common things you share with Musyoka, Onyango, Abdi is endless. Think and Educate other Kenyans
Jublak is a Kenyan hip hop artist. You can listen to his music on reverbnation.