Posted on 18 Apr, 2013

Artist Nazir Tanbouli has created The Kingsland Mural Project in Hoxton, London. It’s the largest single-artist street art project in the UK, covering thirteen mostly-empty blocks of flats. A party celebrating the project takes place today, Saturday from 1-10pm. This article was originally written for a UK newspaper this week…

Hoxton is in the midst of a long and slow gentrification. Just off the Kingsland Road are a cluster of thirteen blocks of flats that will be torn down next year and replaced by new apartment blocks. Most of the residents have been rehoused and the empty flats have all been bricked up. Instead of becoming a desolate and unwelcoming space, Egyptian-born artist Nazir Tanbouli has transformed the buildings into a weird landscape of quirky characters, creating the Kingsland Mural Project.

I first met Naz when I was living in Hoxton last year, before he started the project. Nazir had been given permission by the housing association to use one of the empty flats as an art space (‘Studio 75’), which regularly held exhibitions and film screenings.

“I’ve been making art since I was two years old! My uncle (and babysitter) was a professional artist in Alexandria, Egypt. I’ve lived in the UK since 2002 and I’ve been in Hackney for the past five years. I’m not a street artist though – I’m a painter who sometimes likes to work on the street! I like to make art that reaches people directly and this project is part of that.”

With influences like Miro and Kandinsky, Tanbouli makes a living making murals for commercial clients (e.g. in Dubai, Egypt, Germany, Spain, Italy and of course the UK). He also gives seminars on participatory art at schools, colleges and universities around the UK, focusing on how artists can work with communities (e.g. schools and mental hospitals).

Following articles in local newspapers and recognising his work in the community, the housing association took the unusually progressive step of allowing Nazir to use the bricked-up flats as a massive canvas. Nazir immediately set about adding art to the entrances of the empty blocks of flats, quashing a lot of the sense of dereliction you might otherwise expect. Nazir’s art gives a sense of a fairytale story, with cheeky characters popping up in unexpected corners.

There’s no doubt the project has been a success. Ongoing coverage by the Hackney Gazette and Hackney Citizen has been complemented by articles in Timeout, plus TV coverage by CNN International and BBC World Service.

One thing that I find remarkable is that the project has been entirely self-funded by Nazir, expect for a few tins of paint that kind locals have also donated. “I wanted to set an example for how you carry out a major self-funded art project in difficult economic times. Because of my budget most of the art is black and white: mostly created with ink on paper that is then pasted on the walls. It’s been hard work, especially because of the heavy rain this year. For the amount of time I have spent pasting up new work, I’ve spent five times the time repairing it. Still, it’s been worth it.”

The Kingsland Estate can be found on Laburnum Street, opposite the boat club. For more information on the project and this Saturday’s party check out: www.kingslandmural.co.uk.

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