Memories are forever: Wall Art In Kenya

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May 27, 2011 – Long before the invention of billboards and advertising on neon boards there was something called wall art.
Wall art was found in a certain number of key establishments that formed the heart of every village and trading centre. Some to indicate that a particular establishment was indeed what you were looking for (like a tailor, barbershop etc), some just to make a certain building colorful and some to pass on a message.

The interiors of the said establishments (like restaurants) would have drawings instead of wall hangings as a way of killing plain colored walls. 
The main idea back then was to advertise one’s wares to an illiterate and largely visual audience that the Kenyan commercial wall art industry was born.
All this has since changed since people now prefer clean walls and if there’s to be any wall art then a certain company has  paid to have rights to advertise (have their product)on some building’s wall. Also, a majority of people are quite literate.

One award winning photo-journalist Arvind Vohora was quite fascinated by these wall arts that he felt needed them documented and he did just that. Some 23 years ago he decided to start taking pictures of art on wall. He then compiled them and documented them to come up with the book “Wall Art In Kenya”.
Wall Art In Kenya’s compilation and publication was sponsored by Safaricom. The book was launched yesterday at the Safaricom Michael Joseph center. Seeing as Michael Joseph is very passionate about art he had to be present at the launch. The book contains pictures that will take you way back when you could confirm that a bar was indeed a bar because there’s actually a drawing of people drinking beer on the bar.

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It details masterpieces of the best of wall art works in Kenya. It is done in a way that suggests that the author was really passionate about what he was doing as the pictures are clear and are documented in an organized way.
The book has been categorized into Bars and lodges, Butcheries, Hair salons, Mermaids and Various dukas and there’s a translation page (sayings on the art translated from Swahili to English.) It also shows the route map of the towns the wall arts were taken.
The book is retailing at Ksh5, 000 right now and when it hits the bookstores ksh3, 000 and part of the proceeds will go to Kuona Trust (a non-profit organization which Arvind helped set up).

They say memories are forever, so this book will help you remember the good old days when walls represented canvas to an artist who could make a buck through drawing and making a plain wall have some action happening on it and through Arvind’s eyes this is now possible. Wall Art In Kenya is a book that you can keep referring to over and over just like you would an album as the pictures are quite appealing.

Here are some images from the book:

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MAUREEN OJUNGA

Maureen Ojunga is the newest Health enthusiast in town. She is also a gadget freak and a lover of all things WINE! Besides being a lover of life, she enjoys writing Relationships and Sex pieces and is also an Interior design junkie.

  • Well put Bwana POLYCARP, there is so much that need to be done to put kenya on the first lane economically. Just like Japanese, South Koreans and now Chinese discovered, we have only ourselves to make it and we need to selfishly pursue our interests to make our dear Kenyans live a better life. Otherwise we are suffering tooo much inefficiences and missed opportunities yet we are able. Harrison M. Ikunda

  • timtammie

    i work at kilindini and av seen clearing agents changing their mode of transport from from rail to road claiming the rail system is very slow and wagons are never available on time. Nothing much has changed since Rift Valley Railways took over. Old and dilapidated engines and wagons is what we see. We were hoping that Mr. Brown Ondego, having left a mark at the Port of Mombasa will do the same at RVR, but things are still the same. We may never live to see anything new. Things will remain the same for 25 years, the duration at which the consortium was signed

  • Christopher Haslett

    Only a new, straighter, standard gauge railway will solve this problem. The Lamu-Ethiopia line will be getting this, yet the Mombasa line still runs on a narrow gauge trackbed dating to 1896. The tweaks being applied to improve freight capacity are just that – tweaks. A one metre track cannot support the big diesels, larger wagons and long trains that could increase capacity ten or twenty-fold.

    The money that was spent in Nairobi to make it easier for the middle classes to drive around in their private cars, should have gone into this important infrastructure project. Years of lost opportunity still lie ahead as Kenya waits for a proper trunk railway.

    • your analysis makes sense but leaves one very important factor. There are deeply vested interests in road haulage and those involved will not let go without an almighty war.

      The same thing applies to mass transportation – why do we still have thousands of matatus plying the roads, overlapping, causing all sorts of mishaps while we could have invested in rail transport and even larger articulated buses? Well, plain and simple – everyone from the MPs in parliament to the clerk at the Ministry of Transport and their mothers all own matatus or are linked in some way to the sector – same goes for road vs. rail for cargo.

  • Tom

    this is a great book and should be on every Kenyan coffee table

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