Guest contribution from Nairobi, Kenya by Joel Lukhovi
Kibera, one of Nairobi’s largest slums, and the second largest urban slum continentally, experienced some of the worst violence during Kenya’s post election crisis of 2007. Weeks of unrest left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless over ethnic and unemployment tensions.
Leading up to the current presidential election, two local arts organisations for youth, Kibera Hamlets and Kibera Walls for Peace have joined forces hoping to spread a message for a different outcome.
© Joel Lukhovi. Peace Train, Nairobi, Kenya, 2013.
Aimed at daily commuters, the team went for a disarming creative idea. Back in 2007, the national railway was a major target during clashes when mobs of youth tore up the train tracks that connect Kenya and Uganda and sold them for scrap metal. With this in mind the project initiator Joel Bergner, an American nomadic artist and educator, approached the authorities at the Rift Valley Railway to allow him and fellow graffiti artists from Nairobi to spray the ten commuter coaches used by citizens of Kibera.
The train – one of the first to showcase officially authorised graffiti – now travels through Nairobi hailing unity. The artists’ goal was to capture the attention of spectators and prompt them to reflect analytically when casting their ballot. Part of a broader program to use public murals and performance art throughout Kibera to build unity between ethnic and political groups ahead of Kenya’s presidential election this March 2013.
A portrait of a smiling Wangari Maathai and the Kenyan flag grace the coaches. A message tagged from the first coach the last reads; “Tuwache ukabila…tuwache ubaguzi…tuishi kwa amani,” which translated means ‘Let us go … let us go and without discrimination … to live in peace.’
One artist narrates, “We have a lot of scars in our past, especially in the last election. There is a lot of hidden pain that cannot be seen but we have to paint this train to encourage and promote tolerance. We have to put it on their face and let them know that it’s not all about tribes, killing and shedding blood.”
Joel Lukhovi (b. Nairobi Kenya) is a self-taught photographer who has come to appreciate documentary photography as a critical style. He asserts that it can bring real people and situations living in the aftermath of true-life events to the fore. Lukhovi works with photography as a form of social documentary and maintains that without a visual identity – we have no community, no support network, and no movement. Making ourselves visible is a continual process.
Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya | Doing our part to combat immappancy
All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.