Chela Chelwek: Kenyan Illustrator, Muralist and Graffiti Artist

Chela Chelwek: Kenyan Illustrator, Muralist and Graffiti Artist

The graffiti artistry of Nancy Cherwon, fondly known as Chela, has left an indelible mark on the urban landscape of East Africa. Born with an innate passion for art, Chela’s journey as a graffiti artist has been one of self-discovery and community empowerment.

Chela’s odyssey into the world of graffiti began unexpectedly during her university years at the University of Nairobi. Initially drawn to design and illustration, she stumbled upon the allure of graffiti while exploring the creative hub of PAWA254. It was there that she encountered influential graffiti artists like Swift Elegwa and Uhuru B Brown, whose passion for street art ignited a spark within her.

Reflecting on her serendipitous introduction to graffiti, Chela recalls attending Uhuru’s workshop on graffiti art at the Kenya National Theatre, an experience that would shape her artistic trajectory forever. “I was hooked after that,” she reminisces, her eyes alive with the memory of that transformative moment.

Fast forward to the present, and Chela stands as a luminary within Kenya’s graffiti scene. Her recent endeavor, the embellishment of Kukito restaurant on Kimathi Street, stands as a testament to her prowess as an artist. With the assistance of her students and friends, she transformed the eatery’s facade into a kaleidoscope of colors and motifs, from majestic roosters to elegant princesses, each stroke a celebration of creativity and community.

But Chela’s contributions extend far beyond the confines of Nairobi. She has participated in numerous exhibitions and showcases, including the seminal “Street Diaries” show at Railway Museum, where she was one of the few women artists among a cohort of established graffiti virtuosos. Collaborating with fellow artists like Dina Simbauni and Saka Onyango, Chela has left her mark on the walls of Eastlands, Westlands, and beyond, imparting her skills to aspiring artists in communities like Jericho, Korogocho, and Baba Ndogo.

Yet, Chela’s impact transcends the realm of street art. Her inclusion in the prestigious 2020 Kenya Arts Diary and her collaboration with artists Native and Sogallo on Nairobi’s burgeoning ‘Paint and Wine’ scene exemplify her versatility and entrepreneurial spirit. Whether gracing the pages of an art diary or guiding aspiring artists through the nuances of graffiti, Chela remains steadfast in her commitment to fostering creativity and camaraderie within the artistic community.

As she continues to chart new horizons and push the boundaries of her craft, one thing remains abundantly clear: Chela’s journey as a graffiti artist is not merely about leaving her mark on the walls of cities—it’s about leaving an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of those who encounter her art. With each spray can in hand and each mural she creates, Chela reaffirms the transformative power of art to inspire, unite, and uplift. In a world brimming with chaos and uncertainty, her vibrant colors remind us that beauty can be found even in the unlikeliest of places.