Mbare, one of Harare’s oldest ghettos, has seen its dilapidated Matapi flats splashed with colourful artwork.
The graffiti, an initiative by two cousins, Warren Maruta and Beszil Matsika, shines a ray of hope on the long neglected flats that belong to City of Harare (CoH). Maruta explains their work: “Our flats are an eyesore. The graffiti is meant to at least brighten up our space.”
Maruta and Matsika have proven themselves despite having no formal training. Their work has earned public appreciation and even been used to background one of Jah Prayzah’s music videos shot in front of the flats. Maruta said their first painting was at the famed Jexious Corner in August 2013. Jexious is a music producer who lives in the area and they were inspired by a painting in his home. “We requested him to supply us with paint and the result was some amazing pieces,” said Maruta.
After seeing the colourful paintings, locals started asking the duo to paint their flats. “Mostly it was guys who have recording studios who commissioned us to establish some sort of trademark at their buildings,” Maruta said.
The duo who started out painting different cartoons have since moved to celebrating their local heroes including top dancehall musicians Kinnah and Killa T. “By painting local icons we want to honour our own for spreading positivity about their home area,” said Maruta.
Mbare is Harare’s oldest suburb and boasts a long list of people celebrated in all spheres of life. He added that Mbare has always had a very negative image. The area is often associated with drug abuse and crime.
The duo’s work does not come without criticism however. “We have been ordered by City officials to stop painting their flats,” said Matsika. CoH have threatened them with legal action if they continue painting graffiti on their property. To counter this, the two approached HIFA with a proposal to extend their initiative during the festival.
Matsika said, “We wanted to paint the whole sidewall but HIFA said they will only facilitate that if we get sponsorship.” HIFA has carried out the same initiative in the past when they invited some foreign graffiti artists to paint one of the Matapi flats. “We are still looking for the sponsorship,” said Matsika.
The work of Matsika and Maruta is however not only limited to Mbare. Matsika said “People at Harare Hospital requested us to paint their psychiatric ward.” He added that various other people have also been commissioning them to do graffiti on their private property outside of Mbare. “Warren is a bus conductor while I’m unemployed thus our graffiti provides us with some income to sustain ourselves,” he added.
The two charge from $60 per painting. “Most people find it expensive so most of the time we end up doing the work for just a little fee,” said Matsika. Work is still hard to come by though. “Sometimes we go for a month without any commissioned projects,” he said.
If you are interested in sponsoring the resuscitation of Matapi Flats or working with the graffiti artists then contact Maruta on 0733 805 738 or Matsika on 0775 731 079.