RECLAIMING OUR IDENTITY AND POWER THROUGH STREET ART
Elijah “Eljay” Mutua is a Kenyan-based Painter and Graffiti/Street artist based in Nairobi. He draws his inspiration from city life and the ongoings in urban areas. He is quite experimental but primarily works with acrylics and spray paint. He began his career as a Graffiti/Street artist in 2009 during the monthly Words and Pictures (WAPI) art showcase at The British Council and now has ten years of experience.
Eljay uses his art to portray African Identity and convey messages relevant to social issues facing the community because he believes that artists are agents of change. The community projects among other projects he has participated in have enabled him as a Street Artist to contribute to positive social transformation through rehabilitation and creation of vibrant public spaces for the community.
Eljay believes that our identity as Africans has gone through a lot of erosion historically. “When I started studying art I didn’t find much documentation about Kenyan artists and other African artists in our curriculum. They’re barely categorized up there with old masters of art and yet the Great Spanish Picasso was inspired by African masks at some point in his practice.”
This incredibly skilled artist believes that we should hold the pen that re-writes our history and reclaim our identity and power through what we practice since art is just but part of what identifies us as Africans. He also reasons that art wields the power to be impactful to the community and should be used for positivity. Through workshops, he has been able to connect with new creatives, inspire young and upcoming creatives to help them harness their creative energy.
Eljay draws his inspiration from an array of sources ranging from music, movies, books, Matatu culture, and city life experiences /ongoings in urban areas. Recently, he has been encouraged by Eliud Kipchoge the marathon runner. “He is the epitome of push our boundaries even in situations that seem impossible. He sparked the zeal in me to push my Graffiti/street art to higher levels.”
Eljay has participated in several street art projects locally in Kenya: Koch festival, Africans Street Art Festival (Uganda) and Street Diaries. He has also participated in several group exhibitions locally at Alliance Francaise, Railways Museum, Michael Joseph center and Kenya Art Fair in 2015 & 2016. He emerged second in the Kenya Art Fair 2016 Graffiti competition and won the Sondeka Award 2019 in the Street artist category. His ultimate goal is to have a collaborative project; a Graffiti festival with African Graffiti/Street artists in any public space in an African city.
The artist enjoys the creative freedom that is granted to him by his clients when working on projects. The unlimited freedom of exploring his imagination. Art generally is therapeutic and it helps him keep up his cognitive abilities. Graffiti/street art is mostly outdoors and it is visible to a larger number of people in the public unlike exhibiting work in an enclosed space like a gallery so it is easier to have your message reach a greater audience.
Despite his exciting journey, Eljay has faced some challenges such as;
1)Accessing affordable art material (most of the materials artists use are imported.) This, in turn, makes the end product a bit pricey.
2)Access to spaces to paint.
3)Convincing the general public the difference between Graffiti and vandalism. The line between the two has always been blurry.
He continues to follow his passion in hope of someday curbing these setbacks. Eljay is the epitome of courage, dedication, and creativity; he shares with us some advice that says, “No one is you and that is your superpower.”