I left gangster life to try my hand in art, my childhood love

Iddi Bashir, a former gangster who has taken to art, is an example of what art can achieve in an individual's life.

It has been his childhood dream to one day become an artist, but other side hustles blurred his vision and thirst for anything art.

"As a youth, I was eager to make money, so I abandoned art to become a footballer and ended up playing for Kimbo FC, even though my footballing days were short-lived," Iddi told The Nairobian.

He adds, "We never used to be paid as footballers, so I joined a gang of touts to extort matatus at the terminus."

His turning point came after eight of his friends were killed during a fight over a matatu terminus in Mombasa.

"I ran away from the neighbourhood because of fear. Armed only with with Sh3,000, I started a small batik business, drawing from my childhood passion for art," says the artist.

"As a tout, I could make up to Sh3,000 a day, but I was now making a meagre Sh30 a day from my batik business. Life became hard for me and my family."

It's while walking around selling batiks that Iddi met two popular reggae presenters - Jeff Mwangemi and TT Nangwala - who got interested in his pieces. The two later introduced him to other clients.

With no money to rent a studio, his single room in Dandora also doubled as a studio.

"It was tough because I had to wait for my children to go to school before I could arrange my canvas and draw," Iddi recalls from his Kariobangi South studio.

"This went on until a friend who owns a high-rise building contracted me to paint his late father, a former Kasarani MP. He sympathised with my situation and gave me a room for free," he says.

The artist is skilled at portraits, animal paintings and cultural illustrations. His love for animal paintings, he says, comes from his interest in nature conservation.

Art can pay. Iddi says, "My most expensive piece went for Sh45,000. The least would be Sh3,000. Currently, I have a painting of a family of cheetahs that I have priced at Sh70,000."

Iddi also has beautiful portraits of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. These however, he says are not for sale as he hopes to present them as gifts to the two leaders.

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Iddi Bashir