Graffiti is a fearless form of expression. What gives you the edge, personally?
The need to communicate and get my creativity out there is what drives me. Graffiti is a form of art that portrays an individual’s way of life using the graffiti artist’s personal style. It is innate and you constantly develop it.
Why the name Smokillah?
Smoki was a movie character in a movie called “Friday”. This film is from back in the day and rapper Ice Cube was one of the main actors. Those who have watched it will remember a goofy creative guy called Smoki who was just in his own bubble. I think my friends associated me with him and they started calling me Smoki, I added the last part of the name to add artistic flair to it.
Where was your first public canvas?
My first public canvas was during the album launch of Kalamashaka’s “Kilio Cha Haki”. I was doing the graffiti live and they liked the final product. They took a photo of it and it became the cover of the album. I wasn’t so confident about it. I felt I could do more, but just because they appreciated it, I got the motivation to delve further into graffiti and improve myself.
You tend to display your work in various public places, are you not afraid of backlash from the authorities or from society?
All creatives expect criticism from the people who consume their work and I’m not an exception. However, I tend to do what I feel and I don’t expect the public to always have my back. If I started to please people, I will be limiting myself and this will automatically kill my creativity. Whenever I’m doing a mural in the neighbourhood, I tend to do it during the day, therefore the authorities don’t have any qualms with me because they see my work is excellent and it’s lighting up the area.
How do you think people interpret your form of art?
Some don’t understand it and some highly appreciate it. Even for those who can’t fully interpret it, they still tend to think that it’s a powerful form of art. It’s only a fellow graffiti artist who may fully interpret my work.
You started Graffiti Girls’ in 2015, tell us about that journey...
Graffiti Girls Kenya is an initiative that empowers young women to use an art form to battle various issues affecting them. These include early pregnancies, gender violence, early marriages, FGM, rape culture and other thorny issues. I started it after I noticed I was training men only during a forum and the girls would just peep and leave. That’s when I partnered with a reputable organisation and I started offering the graffiti classes in their vicinity. Bearing in mind that girls have various issues affecting them, I decided to incorporate them in the initiative as a way of giving back to society. As a result, I have come to find out that women have an awesome way of expressing themselves with graffiti.
Which are some of the projects that you guys have been involved in?
Our goal is to do workshops and as many communicative murals as possible. We have been involved in many projects including working with schools such as Maryhill Girls High School, Precious Blood Riruta, and Kenya High School to come up with murals and graffiti art projects. Our collaboration with Akili Dada has furthered our mandate even more.
You are also the Goodwill Ambassador of Rafiki Mwema, tell us more about this...
Rafiki Mwema is a facility located in Nauru. It is a rescue facility that adopts children who have undergone traumatic life experiences. I use graffiti and art as a form of therapy for them. It has managed to inspire so many of them who were suffering.
Most artists live from pay check to pay check, do you think that being an artist is a viable source of income?
Yes being an artist is a viable career. Just as long as you are patient, persistent and you keep the creative juices flowing. If you lack these qualities then you’ll soon get frustrated and you might hate your passion.
Have you ever thought of quitting your career?
Never, even when I don’t have any forthcoming projects, I always have faith that my talent is sufficient.
Apart from Graffiti what else do you do?
Nothing. I am a full-time Graffiti artist. I am passionate about what I do and that’s why I talk about it and I inspire others to join this powerful form of artistic expression.
Taken or single?
I’m in a relationship. I also have a daughter.
How does the woman in your life perceive your career?
She fully supports me. Even when I have to travel, she is always happy that I have got a platform to express myself.
Would you want your daughter to be a Graffiti artist?
Yes, but she tends to love computers a lot. If she wanted to be involved in it, I would take her under my wing and teach her everything I know and we would make a powerful father-daughter duo in the graffiti world.
How do you unwind?
I have a motorcycle. I love the rush of the wind when I’m riding it. It opens up my mind, makes me relax and gives me the inspiration for my various projects.