UP MAGAZINE Vol 7.07 Photography Issue - Page 33

URBAN matatu culture PRESENCE to this critical longing. The damning irony then, is that matatu are often owned by the well-todo who use this intense cultural intercourse to appeal to the youth segment of the commuting public; more damning, not all matatu drivers and touts decide what is painting on their charge. It is then down to the Elegwa’s to decide what gets painted on the minivans. “If a matatu is plain, it does not fill up fast,” Elegwa says. “If it is wellpimped up, guys jump in before it even reaches the stage.” A business savvy culture then. Elegwa says most matatu owners are not much into the culture they commission artists like him to produce; men in their 40s and 50s, they are out to turn a fast buck and will pay as much as Ksh50,000 ($650) to Ksh100,000 ($1300) for a paint job. The work is often going to be carefully themed to reflect a music genre, a movie, or religion. Not all the art is balanced and the graphics is often poorly composed while images downloaded from the internet and printed on stickers, is becoming predominant. The now notoriorus Michuki (transport minister) rule of 2003 led to a decline in matatu art as all minivans were required to be white with yellow lines. Not all minivans were buffed. The law was not entirely enforced and today there is resurgence in the genre. It looks enchanting, but the reality of where it comes from, is all too real. The day we visited Buruburu, a shooting in the night left thugs dead. Mungai says there will always be a matatu painted gaily as long as social inequalities persist. Playing heroic figures, does not mean the matatu man is a hero: “They are doing things differently from what we perceive culture to be. Does that delegitimise their claim? I have no doubt that the matatu man given the chance would be worse than the man he is riling against.” www.upnairobi.com 33 August 2016