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Graffiti Is A World Language

Volume 12, Issue 2  | 
Published 03/10/2015
  |

The basic essence of graffiti is writing one's name in a personalized style. That is the backbone of graffiti. Of course there are no clear cut rules and artists have the freedom to choose their patterns and subject matter based on what drives them. In my case, I paint what primarily makes me happy by not limiting my spirit of freedom as a graffiti artist. I try to fuse characters and wordings in afro-centric patterns with subject matter ranging from the complexity of life to the simplicity of my tag name, in an aesthetically pleasing format.

By Esen

My family and my childhood friends call me Sammy but everybody else knows me as Esen. I am a Kenyan Graffiti Artist based in Nairobi. I was born in Gilgil, a small town between Naivasha and Nakuru. I started art when I was in Kindergarten under the influence of my older brother. I remember I used to draw Safari Rally cars on the floor or on the back cover of my school books; mostly to impress the girls. And am still surprised that the stunt used to work! In primary school my main focus then was on drawings. I couldn't afford any art materials so I used to steal some from the school office, especially the coloured pencils. Water colours were out of my reach at that level. During this period I started participating in different art competitions nationwide and I would usually win or be in the runners-up categories. This motivated me to pursue art more seriously.

I went to Koelel High School and this is where I got introduced to the Hip Hop culture - briefly I became a rapper but everything changed in 2001 when I bought my first copy of THE SOURCE MAGAZINE. It had all these amazing graphics, graffiti and tattoo art and I was totally hooked. I weighed my future as a rapper or as a graffiti artist and I realized the chances of me making it as a graffiti artist were much higher. So, I started graffiti in 2001 but I did not take it seriously until 2004. I have never regretted the choice I made. I doubt any serious Graffiti historian can talk about this art in East and Central Africa and not mention my name! It’s an amazing feeling to know you are a functioning part of a major global culture.

What made me become interested in graffiti art is the unified subculture that it represents. Right now I can go to any country in the world and I will be welcomed by fellow graffiti artists there with open arms. As much as we call it art, Graffiti is a world language and that’s why it’s more popular than all the other forms of art. The culture is further solidified by the formation of different ‘crews’. This is a group of individual artists who normally work together and identify with a certain group name. In my case I represent 3WG (Third World Graffiti) which we formed with my good friend Wise 2. It’s represented in a couple of countries like Singapore, Indonesia, and Germany. I am also the sole representative of two international crews in the whole of Africa, namely SC (Silver Caps Worldwide) which is run by my friend Soem 1 from Barcelona Spain and TPA (The Public Animals) headed by Joey from the USA. It’s one the oldest crews in the states. I was in a bunch of other local crews too, but some of them folded up.

BLACK STAINS
BROKEN WING
BUD FACE
ESEN
NATIVE RHYTHM
TEMPORARY DIMENSIONS
esen-koch fest
esen-koch fest 3 (1)
esen-koch fest
esen-koch fest

I learnt graffiti by studying other established artists from New York and Europe the likes of T-kid, Tats Cru, Mac Crew, Cope 2, Sen 2, Dare, Nash, Mad C, Slider, Ezra One, Peeta, Daim, Rasty, Faith 47 and so on. Profession wise, I studied for a 3-year diploma course in graphic design at Buruburu Institute of Fine Arts (BIFA) from 2006-2008. I did this course to expand my style and scope of thinking, and the application of different forms of art.

The basic essence of graffiti is writing one's name in a personalized style. That is the backbone of graffiti. Of course there are no clear cut rules and artists have the freedom to choose their patterns and subject matter based on what drives them. In my case, I paint what primarily makes me happy by not limiting my spirit of freedom as a graffiti artist. I try to fuse characters and wordings in afro-centric patterns with subject matter ranging from the complexity of life to the simplicity of my tag name, in an aesthetically pleasing format.

Graffiti opened doors for me that I never thought I could enter. It has enabled me to meet and network with a lot of prominent people. Given that it is a new frontier in Kenya, the demand is growing and this has enabled me to do a lot of commissioned projects for big companies and institutions like KCB, Safaricom, African Boots Ltd, Judiciary Museum, British Council, Goethe Institute and so on. I have also participated in campaigns like body mapping: piece by peace during the post-election violence, Nai ni who? and the Duracoat Spray for Change campaign among others.

Graffiti in Kenya is still in the 'diaper' stages and my dream as one of the proud fathers is to nurture it and make sure it grows into a fully-fledged vibrant 'kid' on the block.