Bankslave (aka Kevin Esendi) is best known in Kenya for being one of our leading graffiti artists. He is a man who has mainly made his mark artistically, not for art exhibitions held in local galleries, but for his fabulous designs spray-painted on walls all around the city, coast and countryside.
Probably his most famed work is a portrait of Lupita Nyong’o painted at the GoDown Art Centre. It has been a source of inspiration to many up-and-coming Kenyan artists. It has also become emblematic of Kenya’s booming graffiti art scene.
But Bankslave also gets called to do special projects for private clients, the latest one being the new Hilton Garden Inn on Mombasa Road, just next to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
What the hotel’s owner, Ashak Manji had in mind, says the artist, is for him to paint, not graffiti designs, but imagery reflective of what visitors to Kenya might see if they had the time to do short or lengthy tours of the town and country.
Essentially given free-reign to fill two massive walls in the hotel lobby with paintings meant to appeal as well as highlight the country’s cultural and natural assets, Bankslave has made beautiful murals that grab your gaze the moment you walk in the front door of Garden Inn.
“One is a cityscape of Nairobi that includes the tip of the National Park,” says the artist who also included an aircraft flying overhead together with the face of a lovely Kenyan woman in the mural that also seems to fly overhead the lobby’s spacious foyer.
“The murals look especially good in the evening when the lighting enhances their beauty,” says Lorenzo Baleri, the hotel’s General Manager.
The other lobby mural covers the wall on your left as you enter the Inn, the first of this Hilton franchise in sub-Saharan Africa (the first one in Africa being in Morocco), is a colorful profile of a giraffe and young woman meant to symbolize the natural beauty of Kenya. But those are not the only walls Mr Manji wanted Bankslave to fill.
“One is in the basement that visitors see once they leave the parking area and enter the hotel,” says Liz Tapawa, the hotel’s sales and marketing director.
“The other is on the sixth floor outside the In-house visitors’ lounge,” she adds.
The basement mural is of a young, grinning Maasai moran who’s bedecked with beaded head and neck gear fit for a Hollywood photoshoot. And the last wall is incomplete, containing only one lonely leopard which Bankslave painted next to a window that sadly had been left ajar just before a heavy rain storm that damaged to the wall which was meant to be covered with a vast wildlife scene.
Hopefully, Bankslave will get back to that wall and complete the project since his Hilton Garden Inn work clearly shows he is versatile artistically.
What the project also confirms is that local and international hotels are increasingly seeing the wisdom of working with local artists to enhance the beauty and interest in their interiors by having the artists paint imagery from their everyday lives.
We’re seeing something of a trend when in additional to the Hilton Garden Inn inviting Bankslave to cover its walls with original art, the Hotel Intercontinental (Nairobi) also recently announced its support of local artists, exhibiting works first by Ruth Nyankundi and currently, by Dinesh Revankar.
We’ve also seen the Dusit D2 Hotel hosting monthly art exhibitions for up-and-coming East African artists.
And we occasionally see the Villa Rosa Kempinski hosting artists’ workshops and shows like the one they held late last year with the GTB (Nigerian) Bank. Kempinski’s Ballroom was filled with works by a dozen outstanding Kenyan artists.
Fairmont Norfolk Hotel recently had a solo exhibition featuring the art of the young Kenyan painter, Coster Ojwang. What’s more, it was just a month ago when the Sarova Stanley Hotel had an ‘Art Festival’ curated by Lisa Christoffersen and displaying works by everyone from Mary Collis, David Marrion and Anthony Russell to three young artists from the Kibera Art Centre.
So it’s no surprise that Bankslave is now part of a burgeoning movement wherein the corporate sector is seeing the wisdom of supporting contemporary Kenyan art.