Old buses are often referred to as “chicken buses” in Zimbabwe. Thanks to overuse and poor maintenance, many are in terrible shape and have become an eyesore on the road. Thanks to a startup art group, some are an eyesore no more.

CaliGraph, an art start-up group has mesmerized citizens with breathtaking works of art that are impacting not only commuters but also the wider urban culture; in many ways, they reflect a new creative energy amongst the country’s youth.

“The idea on the bus was for it to resonate with everyone and everywhere it goes and for us, that was the process… where it is patrolling, everyone wants to get in the bus and be part of the moving art”, said Nyasha Jeche, one of the duo of artists that make up CaliGraph. The other half of the group is co-founder Marcus Zvinavashe.

The team has painted hundreds of murals during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to promote dialogue and conversations on COVID itself, on sex education, on positive affirmation, on girl child empowerment and to celebrate women within the communities of Zimbabwe.

The art on the bus is designed to connect all who see it through shared experiences; it is clearly an appreciation of where the country comes from, its heritage, languages and a celebration of what connects all Zimbabweans, indeed, all who live in the wider region.

The bus is saturated with colour, while the graphic patterns surrounding the body of this bus are drawn from design motifs used by local ethnic groups, a tribute to indigenous knowledge systems.

“The fact that the bus has been remodelled with different Zimbabwean authentic stories, so it is a moving Zimbabwean authentic story, and that said on its own, it’s a feature and as far as domestic tourism is concerned it is closer to home”, said Zvinavashe.

The duo sees the pimped-out “chicken bus” as a positive metaphor for the country. Its bright colours project a sunny African outlook. Draped in the colours of the Zimbabwean flag at the front, it carries its passengers “in the spirit of true love for kin and Africanism”.

The CaliGraph murals have also been used to bring to light the issue of gender-based violence in the country and vivid messages have been put up in public spaces for all to see, calling for an end to the scourge.

“Part our work educates and it engages with communities, having done the work we ask ourselves, what’s the message or feedback coming from the communities?” added Zvinavashe.

“Bus art” is being seen as a great way to attract attention and ensure that the message is delivered. Besides adding beauty, character and colour, the bus carries a message that calls for society to unleash “its better self”.

In Zimbabwe, about one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about one in four women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

In Celebration of Women’s Month, in March 2021, CaliGraph painted murals of famous personalities in public places so as to promote dialogue and conversations on sex education, positive affirmation, girl child empowerment and the celebration of women within their communities.

With each mural comes a positive message that is shared with the viewer. It’s a great way to educate people as they admire the immaculately put-together pieces of art. The bus art is also highly mobile, allowing the artists to engage with different communities across the country.

“Every work that we do has got a certain way of teaching us and there’s new lessons… because when we started we didn’t understand we could travel,” said Zvinavashe.

Thanks to the visibility of the project, it has also served as a chance for many businesses to adopt murals to beautify their premises. Instead of walls being just plain white or black, looking drab and uninteresting, businesses can use paintings to colourfully depict their products with art.

This story was republished with the permission of bird, a story agency under Africa No Filter.

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