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Kenyatta Avenue painting project to be extended to other parts of city

They were out to creatively splash colours on Nairobi’s Kenyatta Avenue. And so city dustbins and plant pots got new and playful coats of paint.

Pedestrian crossings got not just the mundane horizontal black and white stripes, some had images of zebras walking across them while others had 3D paintings that gave an illusion of a hole in the middle of the road with white bars dangling near its mouth.

The artists, after getting the nod from the Nairobi County government, expressed themselves as they painted over two Sundays earlier this month. The team comprised some of the most seasoned graffiti artists in the city, including visual artists from the group Creative Spills.

Their work on Kenyatta Avenue has been the talk of town since the painting began. While some people thought it was the work of vandals, an interview with the brains behind the project revealed that the work is part of a bigger mission.

It is a project supported by a United Nations (UN) agency, called The Museum of the United Nations-UN Live, whose core function is to “connect people everywhere to the work and values of the UN” as stated on its website.

FINANCING

According to Ms Caroline Wambui, who is heading the project, most of the financing came from the UN agency.

“The county government waived all the permits for us and they helped us get all the required paperwork for this,” said Ms Wambui. She added that from next year, more areas in Nairobi are likely to be decorated.

“With the people who have expressed interest within Nairobi — and they are quite many — we are trying to do a strategy of exactly which other areas we are going to. After Kenyatta Avenue, our next point was the University of Nairobi footbridge,” she said.

“We were thinking of doing that ramp and the stairways, and take it down to major libraries, or major areas where people meet: Ambassadeur (Hotel) and all these other places. The county government has already reached out for 2020, and we want to see what we can do together,” said Ms Wambui.

The agency states on its website that one of their initiatives is to encourage people to come up with solutions for the climate change crisis. They intend to achieve this through the campaign dubbed

“My Mark: My City”, which encompasses paintings like the ones done in Nairobi.

DYNAMIC

“We are partnering with some of the most energetic, innovative and dynamic organisations in cities around the world. Together we’re exploring — from the ground up — exactly what inspires people to take action,” says the UN agency.

The Nairobi paintings, Ms Wambui said, should invite people to care more about each other, with the goal of reducing pollution.

“We want to bring out more people, more journalists, more stories and figuring out: Why are we dirtying our city? Is it because we don’t love it? Maybe we love it, we just don’t see part of it. We want to create that sense of ownership and take care of our environment,” she said.

Related initiatives have been executed by the UN agency in other countries like Tanzania, India and Colombia.

Mr John Wambugu, an award-winning documentary photographer who also runs a non-governmental organisation that focuses on sustainable development, was part of the team.

He was charged with documenting the activities of the group. He told the Saturday Nation that it was love at first sight for many who saw the paintings, with some even offering to join the group.

“That is the beauty of it. It means that people can actually be part of this process and, hopefully, moving forward, it can also inspire policy change,” said Mr Wambugu.

The participating youth organisations also held a digital storytelling workshop to discuss the Dandora dumpsite and how its challenges can be overcome.