City street life won't dampen artists' spirit

Alfajiri Street Art Kids Founder Lenore Boyd (background) looks on as street boys sketch in Pangani, in July 2017. [File, Standard]

Frederick Mwangi believes photography will get him out of the streets of Nairobi. He is pursuing his passion to put a roof above his head and support his mother who lives in Githurai.

Mwangi, 18, briefly studied photography before running away from home due to conflict. While at Uhuru Park where he now calls home, he heard about Alfajiri - an organisation that rehabilitates street children. He joined to keep himself occupied and to hone his skills in its art workshops.

He recently took images of street boys working on art pieces for a now opened exhibition. The photos were displayed on gallery walls as part of the exhibition, ‘Let’s Live Like Brothers.’

These works of art were presented at Nairobi National Museum by a group of street children from different parts of the city who attend Alfajiri Street Art Kids programme. They dedicated the show to the memory of a fellow street boy who passed on in April. The pieces, which included drawings, photos, paintings and a documentary, were colourful, visibly gentle and easily interpreted.

The stories told in their pieces depicted a stark contrast to how street children are viewed. They reflected as much their unifying spirit as it did their desire for a family unit. Drawings of churches retold their earlier experiences of attending church as a family.

Charles Gitonga uses pencils and paint he gets from the arts programme to noticeably capture spiritual and religious themes; animals, people and landscapes. Charles, who lived in Mlango Kubwa in Mathare slums, has moved into his own studio following his growing experience in art.

Once a street menial worker, he left that behind after meeting with founder of Alfajiri, Lenore Boyd, 12 years ago, who is now planning for the artist’s solo exhibition.

“She has patiently walked through this journey with me. She got me art materials and sold some of my works in the countries she visited. I earned something for myself. I now want to make a living purely out of art,” says Gitonga.

Paul Murethi painted landscapes, animals and Maasai culture in separate pieces to share his background as a young boy living in Samburu. “I wanted people viewing my pieces to find joy in them. I want people to know that we are capable, we have dreams and we want to make something for ourselves,” says Mureithi.

The painter is a reformed drug addict. He is among 100 street children visiting Alfajiri workshops in Pangani and Kasarani on weekdays to freshen up, have meals and work at their craft. The centre has little space to provide accommodation them, therefore they return to sleep in the streets.

“We have learnt how to be our brothers keepers as we live in the streets and meet other street children from other places at workshops. Art helps us to de-stress,” says Mwangi. The young artists hope to earn a living, go back to school and reunite with their families.