Matatu culture on display as UK High Commission ‘pimps’ diplomatic vans ahead of King Charles’ tour

Ahead of the much-anticipated royal visit of King Charles III and the Queen Consort Camilla to Kenya from October 31 to November 3, the UK High Commission in Kenya has decided to spice up things a little by tapping into a tested Kenyan street culture – Matatus.

While partnering with renowned graffiti artists in Kenya, the UK High Commission has transformed its fleet of vans into colourful spectacles, beautifully covered in masterful visual art drawn from Nairobi’s iconic matatu culture.

The landmark initiative was undertaken by Graff Matwana, a renowned graffiti artist who also is the CEO and Founder of ‘Matwana Culture’ which describes itself as the ‘Home to the famous matatu culture’.

While speaking to a local publication, Graff said that he was honoured by the opportunity to collaborate with the UK High Commission in readiness for the King’s visit.

He also added that the move marked a departure from the traditional and formal image associated with diplomatic vehicles, showcasing a refreshing blend of cultural exchange and artistic expression.

The varicoloured designs include custom U.K. airbrush flags, digital printouts, and vinyl decals. They are also adorned with symbolism of both Kenyan and British culture including the Big Ben, the clock tower of London, marathoner Eliud Kipchoge and Game animals.

Some of the matatus also feature images of the King of England and his wife Queen Camilla.

The revamped vans are expected to be part of the convoy used during the Royal Family’s historic visit and will be used to ferry diplomatic staff and other individuals involved in the official state tour. 

This collaboration signifies a recognition of the matatu as a canvas for storytelling – a mobile art form that captures the essence of Kenyan identity.

The matatu graffiti culture, which has been a defining feature of Nairobi’s urban landscape, has increasingly become popular internationally with many global celebrities co-signing the art form after having their faces featured on Nairobi’s matatus.

In January 2021, American rapper and actress Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar popularly known as Cardi B gushed over a Kenyan matatu bearing her image.

While sharing a tweet originally posted by a stan account, Cardi B reacted to the striking matatu imagery saying, “Wow. I love ya sooo much. America is boring they need buses like this!”

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