ALIAS Solo 7
AGE Unknown (no birth record)
PEACE PROJECT Graffiti messages of peace
The truth is, we don’t know much about Solo 7. He’s lived in Kibera since 2003, returning to his hometown only once. But of all the characters in A Chance for Peace he remains the most elusive. To start, his age is unknown – not because we didn’t ask, but because he himself doesn’t know. It’s not uncommon for Kenyans to have no birth records, and Solo is no exception. We do know he’s lived in the Kibera slum for about ten years, dedicating himself primarily to his art. Together with a couple other local artists, Solo works and lives in his own tin-roof studio, working on his paintings and writing his messages of peace on the walls and streets on Kibera. Messages like “PEACE WANTED ALIVE” and “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” are all hallmarks of his contribution to the peace efforts in Kibera, the epicenter of 2007’s post-election violence. Does he boast of his efforts? No. Does he imbue his messages with a sense of purpose? Not really. But as unlikely as he remains as a peace-maker, his messages live on, breathing new life into the hearts of those who see them everyday.
Although he’s been painting commercially since 1996, tt was Solo’s older brother who first inspired him to draw. His brother, a fan of pen and ink drawing, showed young Solo what he would do to pass the time. Solo followed in his footsteps, but instead of staying in the village in central Kenya where he was born, he took off to Nairobi and ended up in Kibera. Kibera, he says, remains his favorite place and he’d never want to move from the slum that remains the largest in East Africa.
So on the day of the violence, December 29th, 2007, Solo did not flee. Instead, he went into the fray, unarmed, and according to him uninterested in participating in the violence. Instead, he took a piece of charcoal found on the road and started writing. While people looted others’ goods and attacked each other – some on the offense, some only defending themselves – Solo began what would be comes his “messages of peace.” After the violence died down that he went back and saw the items that he had written on were never looted. It was then, he says, that he discovered the power of the written word.
To this very day, the countless messages he’s written in Kibera remain. The violence died down, people left their homes, goods were looted, but the message of peace remain – a true testament to the power of art, passive resistance, and a voice for peace.
ON HIS IMPETUS FOR ACTION
“We are all suffering… all tribes are suffering because it was not business as usual. People had started even starving. Children were dying of hunger and old men and women, too. I decided to come up with this peace initiative – writing on the walls – at least to educate my fellow youths, because it was the youths that were causing all this chaos.”
ON THE COMMUNITY HE SERVES
“I do this art for the sake of all Kenyans. Because I want all of us to have peace so we could do our normal day-to-day activities. These are the same activities that inspire me to do my art.”
ON THE BEAUTY OF KIBERA SLUM
“Kibera is beautiful and I really like it, because it has got a lot of people. It is a densely populated area, whereby you are able to interact to each and every person, from different groups of life.”
WATCH THE TEASER
We knew Solo’s name and his work before we every even knew who he was. On our first of filming we took a commuter bus into Kibera slum, and written all over the streets and walls of the slum were these messages of peace all signed “Solo 7”. It didn’t take long before we were standing in Solo’s studio interviewing him.
In this teaser you can get a glimpse of how the story first unfolded on the streets of Kibera, home to over 1 million residents and one artist bold enough to stand up for peace.