Urban Art: transforming the cities of Africa

Many artists find that urban art is a great way to express themselves while improving the appearance of their local area. In some African cities, urban art has become a key part of the city landscape, and has even become a tourist attraction. 


Urban art includes any art form that works within the urban environment. Often, urban artists aim to represent urban life, and the experiences of the people who live in their city. The most common form of urban art are wall paintings, otherwise known as murals. However, sculpture is also very popular, especially in parks and open areas. It is important that artists get permission before they paint on a building or structure to avoid misunderstandings. Urban art is a union of art and the city, not a conflict between them. 


Urban art is a very public art form, and so in theory, anyone can produce it, and anyone can enjoy it. This encourages a diverse range of artists to contribute. This means that there may be a greater variety in the style and content of the work than is possible in art galleries. 

In large cities, the bright colours can make dull concrete buildings look more exciting. This can prevent the city centre looking like a ‘concrete jungle’. Animals and plants are a common theme in urban art, bringing life to cities where nature may seem very far away.


Urban art provides the opportunity for the celebration of cultural heritage, and to express ourselves on a much larger ‘canvas’ than in a normal painting. With more space, there is room for more people to get involved and work together. It can also be used to educate the public, for example about health and hygiene. 

Urban art also encourages international cooperation. In Johannesburg, South Africa, numerous international artists have played an important role in the growth of street art. Since 2012, the City of Gold Urban Art Festival has celebrated the importance of urban art in the city. The international visitors benefit the economy of the local area. 


Msale is a street artist working in the capital city of Kenya, Nairobi. During the coronavirus pandemic, Msale and other local artists have been using wall paintings to provide clear and accurate information about the virus. His paintings focus on ‘practical solutions’ that people can use to protect themselves from infection. Msale’s work shows us how urban art can have an important message for the community. His art is not just about brightening up the city. It is also about informing people.



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