Nancy Chelagat, better known by her artistic pseudonym Chela, started showing interest in art when she was just in class seven.
It was during a family get together that she drew her first piece. Many years later, Chela is one of the finest artists you’ll find in Nairobi.
“There were colours and drawing boards at the kid’s corner. I drew and took it to my elder sister, she was surprised and proud of me,” she says of her first drawing.
In school, all her friends could draw and so she had to learn how to draw.
“I wanted to join the cool kid’s clique in the school and the only way to do it was by learning a thing or two about drawing/art,” said Chela.
She continued honing her skills in art even after joining Moi Forces Academy in Lanet.
“I continued with art but was doing it for fun. I always found myself drawing on a piece of canvas, walls and at the back covers of my books,” she recalls.
It got serious when she joined the University of Nairobi where she did design, majoring in Illustrations.
“I wanted to do fine art at Kenyatta University but my parents were against it. They wanted me to choose something better, like architecture,” she says.
For the four years she was in campus, her parents knew she was doing Interior Design. It was only a week to her graduation that she told them she had changed her course.
“I told them only two weeks to graduation. It was too late for them to get mad at me. They still keep telling me to get a real job,” she says.
To Chela, art is a hobby and her full-time career. If she is not painting, then she is doing graffiti or anything art-related.
From 2015, she has been doing art and it has catered for her every day’s need.
“I take it like any other business. I invest my time and everything in it. And just like any other business, I have good days and the bad days,” Chela says.
The cheapest art she has sold went for Sh500, while her most expensive piece so far fetched Sh100,000.
According to Chela, the biggest challenge she and other artists face is the lack of acceptance and understanding of the kind of art they do.
Her work is inspired by the spirit of Africanism, the people of African origin and nature. And she mostly depicts women in her art pieces.
For Chela, women have the power to bring forth life.
“The changes that happen to women, emotionally, physically and spiritually when bringing forth life is just amazing,” she says.
In appreciating the African women and motherhood she started her new series ‘Mother of Creation’ in which she uses women’s faces in all her artwork.
Chela uses her art for social influence. In the streets of Nairobi, her graffiti has been used to beautify the walls. Her work will just make you stop and stare at the walls.
Though it is not easy to find a wall within the city, she has done a few pieces. Within the city, her work has been showcased at the Nairobi Railway Museum where old trains have been abandoned. The trains are used as exhibition spaces by artists in Nairobi.
Neigbourhoods like Jericho, Baba Dogo, Kibera, and Mukuru are a graffiti-friendly neighborhood with the resident appreciating the art.
“I always say, Instead of writing ‘usikojoe hapa’ just do a graffiti installation on the wall and I bet no one in their right mind will ‘kojoa’ there,” she opines.
“We are moving away from angry expression and violence and embracing constructive messaging in street art. We are using art for social change. Art that has a positive impact on the community,” she says.
To Chela working closely with an established artist like Swift Elegwa as a mentor has really helped in her growth.
“He had a great influence in me learning about graffiti and fine art. He was patient with me and he introduced me to the dos and don’t in this industry,” she says.
Chela is planning to start her own studio where she can take three artists per year and train them. In addition to that, she trains kids during school holidays just to nurture the future generation.
Her artist has made her travel around the world to do graffiti and attend workshops.