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The East African : July 14th 2014
The EastAfrican VIII a≥t ‘‘ Last hu≥≥ah on the ≥oad to chaos In his latest exhibition Mu≥agu≥i captu≥es touts in action, using photog≥aphs to ≥eco≥d and analyse movement, w≥ites FRANK WHALLEY self explaining the other day, is the chaos… and in particular the energy and edgy violence of the matatus. They cut up other drivers, run W over pavements, do anything to gain a few extra inches of space on the road and everyone else can go jump. Yet their drivers are capable of sudden, unexpected, not to say disconcerting, courtesy. I remember one waving me into an otherwise impenetrable line of traffic with a cheery grin. And of course they entered Nairo- bians’ hearts in the aftermath of the 1998 embassy bombing when they queued up to ferry the injured to hospital, turning their vehicles into makeshift ambulances. They didn’t charge a cent. On the debit side, they habitually increase fares without warning at the first hint of rain, or anything else that might slow them down and prevent them raking in their usual profits. All this probably explains why most commentators, pressed to find an appropriate adjective to describe how city folk feel about the matatus, talk about their “love-hate” relationship with the crews. The late John Michuki, who made a robust transport minister, reined them in a little by making the crews wear uniforms, carry a maximum number of passengers and stick to speed limits but it did not, could not, last. henever I am away from Kenya the thing I miss most, I was surprised to find my- The main effect of the “Michuki Rules” — apart from the realisation that matatus could actually be curbed, although successive governments seem to have forgotten that important lesson — was, alas, to abolish the crazy, imaginative liveries of the matatus and replace what really was a living art form with a dull, white body with that horizontal yellow strip broken to mark the route and, now, the name of the owners’ Sacco. True a few of the names survive — The Redeemer and Bill’s Gal with a picture of Monica Lewinsky spring to mind — but it really is not the same. I recall one Nissan 14-seater painted to look like a huge spider’s web, silver on black, and another decorated with trompe d’oeil to look like a mobile CD. We all have our favourites and you will remember yours as well. Now their glory remains as a faint echo in the curious stunts of the touts — the makangas — who run alongside their moving matatus, leap in and out, or hang from the doors, all while grasping Ksh10,000 ($116) in Ksh50 ($0.60) notes between the fingers of one hand. They usually communicate in sign language because of the loud, thumping music and use a secret code to raise prices and warn each other of police traps ahead. Some people find them entertain- ing. And so to a point do I, but only if the alternative amusement on offer is a severe bout of malaria. One man who finds them end- lessly interesting is the artist Dennis Muraguri, who has made it his work Mutterings among senators and others repeat the heresy that all matatus may be replaced by the large, soulless city buses.” Dennis Muraguri has made it his work to record the matatus, their insolent drivers and uncouth touts. Pictures: Frank Whalley MAGAZINE JULY 12-18,2014 TATTOOS F≥esh ink fo≥ the human canvas f you a≥e thinking about getting a tattoo, o≥ adding anothe≥ one to the half-dozen o≥ so you al≥eady have, the options of what a≥e available may have multiplied since the last time you visited you≥ tattoo pa≥lo≥. How about going 3-D? The Swiss a≥tist H R Gige≥, who died in May, is the godfathe≥ of th≥ee-dimensional tattoos. His wo≥k spawned a style called biomechanical tattoos. “People would get these tubes I tattooed on thei≥ skin in the 1980s,” said Ma≥k Mahoney, the owne≥ of the Sham≥ock Social Club in West Hollywood, Califo≥nia. “So it’s funny that it’s just been sta≥ting up again. “I just did a cutaway of ≥eal muscula≥ image≥y on somebody’s shoulde≥,” Mahoney added. Othe≥ ve≥sions include mo≥eapp≥oachable styles, such as lifelike animals o≥ objects that appea≥ to be in motion. “The 3-D e≠ect makes it look mo≥e o≥ganic, like it belongs on my skin,” said Co≥≥ine Skeen, 28, a dental hygienist f≥om Baltimo≥e. Last month she chose a 3-D tattoo to memo≥ialise an aunt who died of cance≥. “I wanted it to look like the≥e’s a ≥eal butte≥fly sitting on my shoulde≥,” Skeen said. 3-D ink ≥equi≥es a la≥ge amount of detail and needlewo≥k, which can be fai≥ly labou≥ intensive. (T≥anslation: mo≥e pain.) Choices a≥e out the≥e fo≥ those who want to deco≥ate themselves. to record the matatus, their insolent drivers and uncouth touts. The social realism of his biting, woodcut prints and paintings has been seen in many shows (Manjano was the most recent) and has been featured by the BBC. And just when you thought he had nothing new to say about matatus, Muraguri has confounded us all with his latest exhibition at the Kuona Trust Arts Centre in Nairobi, where he has his studio. Called Matatu Games, it is of back-to-back light boxes — 99 each side in nine rows of 11 — each ending in a video running on a tablet showing the makangas in action. Like the Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge, Muraguri uses sequences of stills to record and analyse movement. The subject and the medium (light boxes instead of the printed page) brings it bang up to date. Each postcard-sized, black and white photo, is a freeze frame of a tout in action and short of standing in the street and risking being run over, it is the best way to view this little bit of social history before we are all replaced by self-drive cars. The irony of this show is that no sooner do matatus find their own champion, than their hour may be passing. Mutterings among senators and others repeat the heresy that all matatus may be replaced by the large, soulless city buses, driven even more dangerously than matatus and even more threateningly, because of their size and the careless disregard shown by most of their incompetent drivers. While we witness what the future may look back on as the final battle for survival among transport dinosaurs, a new and even more irritating menace has arrived... cheap nasty little underpowered motorcycles that duck and weave around the roads, using pavements and the central reservations with apparent impunity. If Nairobians want a foretaste of how bad this can get, let them visit Kampala where thousands of these things buzz, splutter and swarm through the city turning even the shortest journey into a nightmare. See the future and know it has failed. Frank Whalley runs Lenga Juu, a fine arts and media consultancy based in Nairobi. A 3-D butterfly tattoo decorates Corrine Skeen’s shoulder. Pic: NYT Watercolour-inspired tattoos Tattooing has long been ≥ega≥ded by many as an a≥t fo≥m, but ≥a≥ely do ink love≥s get to make as lite≥al a pa≥allel than with wate≥colo≥ tattooing. The style is de≥ived f≥om a Eu≥opean f≥eefo≥m method of tattooing. Flash tattoos Designed to look like b≥acelets, necklaces and beach bling, flash tattoos a≥e this summe≥’s noncommittal style upg≥ade. The geekchic tempo≥a≥y tattoos a≥e popula≥ among design and typog≥aphy devotees.
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