On the morning of 9th May, around 8.30 am GMT, as part of the #medicineonthewalls project, street artists in Bristol and Nairobi started painting walls featuring similar designs.
They had got in touch via instagram and email, exchanged sketches, and, as the day went by, they checked in on one another’s progress, looking at how their walls were evolving and seeing how they were managing each other’s styles.
At the Bristol end was @Object000 (Benoit Bennet), working, as often, on the Jamaica Street wall of the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft yard. In Nairobi was @Msale_ (Brian Musasia) and friends from the BSQ crew. Afterwards, Msale and Object... agreed to answer some questions, about this project and street art in general.
1. You both work really fast! How do city authorities feel about street-art in Nairobi and Bristol? Does it change at all if what you're painting is COVID-19 related?
M. City authorities are not that involved on street art in Nairobi. They charge exorbitant fees for permits to paint in central business district, hence why I prefer painting in the slums since it's just a matter of just talking to the people living in these houses.
O. Strangely the council don't really seem to support any forms of street art other than the massive statement murals, but thankfully there are some walls with long standing permissions which I usually paint.
2. Msale, I know in interviews you talk about how your mother, a primary school teacher, first inspired you to become an artist. But when did your love of art become a love of street art? And how about you, Benoit?
M. My Love for street art started when I began my attachment with @swift9graffiti, a pioneer of Kenyan graffiti, during my 2nd year in campus.
O. I'd enjoyed graffiti from books, and drawn pieces on paper since I was a kid, but as soon as I moved to Bristol I started to paint pieces in the streets.
3. Can you tell us a little bit about the influences on your street art? Was there already an established street art culture when you started painting?
M. When I started painting a graffiti group called Spray Uzi was the only crew painting in Nairobi. We at BSQ are the 2nd generation of graffiti artists in Kenya. A lot of public transport growing up in Nairobi (called matatus) are fully designed with graffiti artworks and stickers. This has been the culture since the 80s.
O. I absorb many influences, from the comics I grew up reading to the artists I studied at art college, but also my artistic family and the many creative friends and colleagues I've made in Bristol.
4. I really liked the way your design worked with the corners of the walls, Msale. Do you like to work with architectural features? Benoit, you often do pieces on the wall in Jamaica Street; do you like painting in the same place?
M. Yes, architectural features enhance my artworks and I feel should be the essence of street art.
O. That wall is part of my work with the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft, and I love painting it, but I prefer working in slightly wilder spots, like the DIY skate park under the M32 or the Bearpit (as it was).
5. Msale, you work with the bsq_crew -- that's the 'Bomb Squad Crew'; can you tell us a bit about the name and the other artists? Benoit, for the #medicineonthewalls project you've quite often painted other people's designs -- is that something you enjoy? Is it something you do often?
M. We started BSQ together with two of my friends Thufu and Kenah back in 2013. We've been growing together in the street art industry and focused on placing East African graffiti on the map.
O. Similarly to lots of my work with the PRSC I'm a kind of jobbing artist, and it's great practice for technique. My own street work tends to be much wilder and less planned out.
6. Favourite hashtag?
M. Mostly I use #grafikali since it's the name of my style.
O. Dunno. Although I use it I don't like "social media" much. I like the slogan ‘eat the rich’ which can be a hashtag.
7. Are people you meet painting generally positive about street art? Or is it better to talk about the responses of different groups of people?
M. People have really been enjoying the art and all I receive is encouragement and positive messages and more walls to paint.
O. Most people are pretty positive, but there are plenty who don't like that their city is so plastered in an art form they despise...
8. Do you have a favourite area for painting? Who are the other street artists we should look up on instagram or the web?
M. I don't have a favourite area to paint. I go where I can find a wall... and paint. Sure look up these names on Instagram:
@swift9graffiti, @thufu_b, @kaymist4, @bsq_crew, @chelwek, @smokilla
O. My favorite was the Bearpit, but that's gone... I've been particularly inspired recently by the paste-ups of @wearefatherless and @zombiesqueege from insta. On the walls locally I've been impressed with Soak pushing the envelope for big roller dubs, even if their placement can be pretty anti-social sometimes...
9. A question just for you, Msale. One of the figures you painted for this wall was 'Hope'. Have you painted her before? Does she have any special meaning to you? (Do you always start with a yellow base?)
M. I have never painted her before, I came across her eyes somewhere and they inspired me. Thought of designing something around that. I always go with the flow and that day I was feeling happy I guess and yellow is what I started with.
10. And one for you, Benoit. The explanation of social distancing (the two people holding the globe, 2m apart) is great; how did the idea emerge?
O. It's a combination of the two words bringing us closer despite being half the way around the word from each other, and the idea that we need to be more socially cohesive at this time, despite the physical distance we have to enforce. It seems even more relevant given more recent events in the States...
11. Was there anything that surprised you when you saw the time lapse of the painting of the walls?
M. I enjoyed watching the timelapse; please let's collaborate on more! I was shocked at Object's mastery of #grafikali.
B. I wasn't really sure what to expect to be honest, but the collaboration pieces being part of a much bigger mural surrounding the square was a pleasant surprise!
12. Can you give us the soundtrack of the songs you listened to while painting the wall?
O. I can't remember exactly, but it was probably podcasts rather than music. Mostly about science and leftwing politics, maybe 'Revolutionary Left Radio'. And a comedy one – 'The Bugle'.
12. Do you have any questions?
M. Can you organize for I or the BSQ crew come paint with you guys out there in Bristol? And is there any funding you can access to help me and my crew spread the good message of street art in Nairobi? Paints are quite pricey out here.
Many thanks to both, for the answers and the walls! Hopefully we can work together again soon.
John Lee, 2020