Muriuki, James


Kenyan, b. 1977; lives and works in Nairobi, Kenya


Throughout Nairobi, fleets of privately owned small buses and minivans, called "matatus," operate as shared transportation services. These vehicles fill a void in the Nairobi public transportation system and are regularly used by a wide range of citizens to commute to and from work. Though their significance as simple transport is undeniable, matatus also operate in a social milieu among Nairobi's youth culture. Often painted with dazzlingly bright colors and themes and branded with images of music icons and suggestive phrases, matatus often boom loudly with the rhythm of the latest hip-hop and rap music from expensive sound systems, the low rumble of bass overpowering the sounds of their own diesel engines. Often selected by young riders based on the music, their painted decoration, or a combination of the two, matatus can be as much mobile party as morning commute.  

James Muriuki's Matatus photographs (2005), from his Town series, represent these buses alternately speeding through the frame or stopped in gridlocked traffic after dark. While these images can be read as an everyday return home after business hours, the sharp contrasts, blurred imagery, and doubled lights more aptly suggest the careening and mobile social fabric of late-night Nairobi. An undecidable suggestion of speed—matatu drivers infamously flout traffic and safety regulations—and sound blend together in Muriuki's images as the on-the-street cacophony is suggested by the visual information in the photographs. In imaging the matatus, Muriuki's photographs resound with both music and movement—each of which, by its nature, exceeds the still frame. Much like the blurred streets seen from the colorful matatu windows, Muriuki presents a view of Nairobi's dynamic and hybrid culture.

Artworks by Muriuki, James

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