By Florence Kyohangirwe (Kakatshozi)

African Street Art Festival, graffiti was not a form of artistic expression very common in Uganda, despite neighboring Kenya having quite a number of graffiti artists and murals allover taxis and buildings. Over the past years, however, Uganda has picked up momentum and several graffiti artists are putting up murals all over the city and in some neighborhoods. The graffiti culture has been greatly influenced by the annual Africans Street Art Festival (Afri-Cans) an initiative founded by artist, Sparrow.

Sparrow Ug and fellow graffiti artist Monk.e at the last AfriCan festival.
Photo by Kiibuka Mukisa

Sparrow started doing graffiti in 2011 after joining Breakdance Project Uganda, a prominent voluntary non-profit that uses dance, hip-hop, and the arts for education and empowerment, as well as promoting positive social change among youth in Uganda. Sparrow was inspired to start something to bring together graffiti artists, he founded Africans Street Art Festival, “The idea of the festival came about as I did trips around east African countries. I realized that we Africans missed something that brought us together to celebrate our Art, I wanted to create something that would bring graffiti artists together and inspire upcoming graffiti artists to participate,” he says.

To get artists to participate, Sparrow meets them in person or extends an invite via social media. Sparrow adds, “I meet some graffiti artists at events or even online and we talk about the scene and how or what we can do to broaden it, get more artists who are doing graffiti to show their work, get the community to recognize our art, it is through such necessary conversation that the Afri-Can festival is made possible.” On why the festival chooses to transform slums with art, Sparrow says, “We don’t necessarily target slums, we target all areas we can reach, but also being that slums are places most of us grew up in, we love seeing change or positive impact through art.

The people are so easy to approach and interact with. The communities where we do the art during the festival love it so much and always requests for us to paint more and more murals. Slums are at times known as sad places with people struggling and basically hopeless, bringing this beautiful art that tells impactful messages is a way to bring hope to such communities.

Artist at the 2018 AfriCan Festival
Photo by Kibuuka Mukisa

The youth in these slums can pick up interests in art, this will keep them busy and out of trouble that comes with staying in this kind of society. Also, it is greatly satisfying transforming walls with no stories to talking ones that are spreading a message of hope and dreams that can possibly be attained. However we balance and do a lot of murals in urban centers and with prominent companies as well.” As the festival grows, year after year, the male-dominated art genre is welcoming and encouraging more and more women to take part and in fact the 2018 festival theme was “Celebrating Women”.

“When the festival started, there was just one female artist,” Sparrow recalls, “we are glad that with every festival, the number of female graffiti artists goes up. We have ladies representing Uganda on the world stage and in fact, for the 2019 African Street Art Fest, we have more women participating than in
the past.” he concludes

As for the future of the festival, Sparrow confirms that it will be back bigger and better on 10th August with the goal to attain the respect that the artists deserve, and of course to have more

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