• Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    U.S. President Barack Obama as rendered by the artist Bankslave, who was born and still lives in the Kibera slum. During the previous election violence, looters spared his house when they recognized him as "the guy who paints murals" around Kibera.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    Morning commuters at Kibera train station board a train that became colorful overnight.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    The artists work into the night to finish painting the peace train before it leaves for Kibera the next morning at 6 a.m.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    Stephen Onyango Owino paints the train with the help of kids from "Kibera Hamlets," a group that works with orphans and underprivileged kids in the Kibera slum.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    True to his name, Swift9 finishes his piece before anyone else: a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    "Tuwache Ubaguzi" is part of a longer phrase written across the 10-car train, quoting the first line of a poem composed by a 13-year-old girl from Kibera. The full text translates to "Down with tribalism, down with discrimination, let's live in peace."

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    27-year-old Uhuru B has been a graffiti artist for 12 years. "What we're doing here now is part of a civic education, and also a way to advertise peace," he says.

  • Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

    WiseTwo, 26, steps back to look before adding finishing touches. "Where this train is going," he says, "a lot of people won't know who Martin Luther King is."

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Kenya’s Graffiti Train is on a Peaceful Journey

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Art, in all its forms, has long been a primary tool for building community and helping to bridge social divides. Graffiti has often been chief among these common denominators, and now it’s once again being used to help foster peace in Kenya. In response to the East African nation’s currently tumultuous climate, Kibera Walls for Peace and Kibera Hamlets,  has gathered graffiti artists from different ethnic groups to come together to promote unity, and peace in society.

With permission from the Rift Valley Railway, this art initiative is an extension of Kibera Walls for Peace and Kibera Hamlets’ ongoing actions to help quell gang violence and general strife. The rolling art project has added significance given how trains where targeted for violence during the nation’s violence-tainted 2007 and 2008 elections. Along with the artwork, there’s a message scrolling down the train’s surface, which translates to “leave tribalism, leave discrimination – let’s live in peace.”

Conspiracy theorists will “know” Kenya as President Obama’s birthplace, while most folks may only be familiar with upheaval, blood diamonds and abandoned baby elephants. With the efforts of this diverse grouping of writers, more people may soon come to see the country in a new light, moving forward.

NPR has more on the project, including accounts from local artists Bankslave, and Swift9. Read here, download the audio here, or listen up top.

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