With his headphones on, neither the blaring matatus nor the endless stares and comments by the curious onlookers do take his focus away from the mural right before him. As we approach him, Kerosh unplugs his headphones and quickly descends from the ladder he is using for support. He leaves his working tools hanging on one side of the ladder-a clear indication that he is not yet done painting. A quick glance at his apron and I can tell this is a job he has done for many days. The spills on it say it all.
Kerosh is a graffiti artist whose work is inspired by his day to day interactions. He therefore has no constant theme or message as these interactions keeps changing every now and then. He goes on to explain why he enjoys painting the walls in the streets. “There are no restrictions as to who gets to view the art on the walls as opposed to galleries where people are sometimes charged to view art. Not everyone is in a position to pay even though they’d love to see the art”, he says. Painting on the streets therefore gives everyone an equal chance to view his art.
Kerosh affirms that his art not only earns him a living but also enables him to be in a space where he experiences a peace of mind and personal progress. He says that he has made money out of his work to a point where he uses that money to carry out free projects. “This is a free project and I am happy to do it”, he says with a smile.
He goes on to explain the painting he is working on. “I am trying to show the nurturing element in both humans and animals. Maybe if people understood that animals have the nurturing element in them too, they’d protect their natural habitats”, argues Kerosh. The specific painting on the wall across Nairobi’s Muthurwa market consists of a mother elephant extending its trunk to her calf, trying to help in a way. Near the elephant is a woman carrying her child while trying to protect her with her hands.
Other beautiful pieces are found on other spots on the wall. “My group mates have worked on the other paintings along this wall”, he affirms. He further says that they work as a group and are mostly fond at the Railway Art Museum where they mostly practice their art.
Inspiration and beginning
Kerosh discovered his talent in art at a young age. “In nursery school, I was always fascinated by the fact that the books we were using had pictures of things we were familiar with. I wanted to know how to draw such things”, Kerosh says. Later, he came across Gado and his political cartoons and KJ’s famous comic strip named ‘Head on Corrision’ in the newspapers and was greatly inspired by these artists. “I wanted to come up with something similar, but not in the dailies as I had observed that not everyone had access to newspapers”. He wanted to ensure that his work was accessible to everybody.
In 2007 he started drawing with inspiration from what he observed in the society. He is quick to add that his art is not always meant to please the people, but also to spark debates around various issues in the society. According to Kerosh, his work stands out because it has a lot of his personality, culture and influences in it.
Kerosh is glad that he has managed to overcome all the challenges that have come his way, especially when he was starting out. “It was hard to be allowed to paint on the walls but now they understand and are starting to embrace such art works”,he says.
Having the freedom to paint whatever one wants was also a challenge as they previously didn’t have total control of what they wanted to paint. “Not having total freedom with your work is not anything an artist would want to happen” he says.
Despite the challenges, Kerosh is grateful to have taken part in notable projects across the country. “I have done some projects with the refugees at Kakuma and Daadab that left me feeling fulfilled as they ended up well”.
Ever since he began his craft in 2007, Kerosh says that there is one lesson that he has learnt and is grateful about it. “I have learnt to work with people who do not understand what I do without feeling offended.” He concludes that he tries his best to ensure that his work is well understood by the public. “Whenever I want to pass a specific message, I put much effort to ensure that the message is not distorted in any way”, he says.
Asked what his advise would be to the upcoming graffiti artists, he is quick to talk about hard work and practice. “Always practice so as to perfect your art”, he insists.