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Bankslave raising environmental awareness through graffiti

 Bankslave, a grafitti artiste in Nairobi.

With the escalating issue of air quality deterioration in African cities, including Nairobi, many individuals and organizations have intensified their efforts to combat this problem. They are working tirelessly to ensure good air quality in urban areas and raising awareness among residents to encourage actions that reduce air pollution and promote alternative practices for better air quality.

One notable figure in this movement is Bankslave, a graffiti artist based in Nairobi. Initially known for painting street walls and public transport vehicles (matatus) to convey political messages and preserve Nairobi's vibrant matatu culture, Bankslave has shifted his focus toward environmental activism, particularly regarding air quality in Nairobi.

His transition began during the Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi last year, where he started using his art to raise awareness about environmental conservation and the impacts of air pollution. He dedicated a mural to commemorate a child whose tragic death was linked to air pollution. This year, he is participating in the UNEP's Environmental Assembly, painting another mural highlighting the critical nature of air pollution and its interconnectedness with the triple planetary crisis.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Bankslave to delve into his life and artistic journey. Here are some insights from our conversation:

Q: When and where were you born, and where did you grow up? A: I was born in 1983 in the Kibera slums of Nairobi, Kenya, and that's where I spent my childhood and upbringing.

Q: What's your real name, and how did you come up with the name 'Bankslave'? A: My real name is Kevin Esendi, and 'Bankslave' is my artist name. The name originated from my experiences navigating the economic system, feeling trapped like a slave to financial institutions. It symbolizes the struggle many of us face in our society.

Q: Can you share some of your fondest childhood memories? A: One of my cherished memories is learning to draw with charcoal on walls near my mother's house. Despite getting into trouble with my father for it, my mom encouraged my artistic exploration. These early experiences shaped my passion for art.

Q: How did you discover your talent for art? A: When I was around ten years old, I drew a portrait of a politician that impressed my mother. Her encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue art as a form of expression and therapy.

Q: How do you use your art to drive social change? A: I aim to spark dialogue and raise awareness through my artwork on various social issues, including environmental concerns, gender-based violence, and public health. My goal is to create art that resonates with people and prompts them to reflect and take action.

Q: What inspired you to focus on environmental themes in your murals? A: Witnessing the impact of pollution on our daily lives, especially the air we breathe, motivated me to use my art as a platform for environmental advocacy. I believe in the power of art to inspire change and promote a healthier planet.

Q: What is your message to your fans and supporters? A: I encourage everyone to continue supporting not just me but also the broader art community in Kenya, Africa, and globally. Art has the potential to inspire, educate, and bring joy to people's lives. Let's appreciate and learn from the messages artists like myself convey through our work.


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