There are no boundaries to art or its expression. George Dufanda, a local barber, found artistic expression in the mundanity of personal grooming. While others approach shaving as routine hairdressing, Dufanda approaches it as a canvas for his off-the-cuff art. With his hair clippers, skill and imagination, the 23-year-old has been shaving artsy patterns into haircuts since before anyone appreciated its beauty. This is Dufanda’s story:
I began shaving when I was 13. I used a razor blade and a pair of scissors, and shaved the boys in my neighbourhood. Even my dad let me shave him. We were living in Kinshasa, Congo, back then. That’s where I was born. The haircuts were simple but clean, I realised I was good at it. What I wasn’t good at was maths and science in school, but I was good in arts, drawing and languages.
My family came to Kenya in August 2011. We’d lived in Uganda for eight months after leaving Congo. We got a place in Kayole. There was a barbershop in the neighbourhood, it didn’t have a name, they just called it Kinyozi. The clients were reluctant to let me shave them because of how young I was. But once they did, they were happy and became regulars in the three years I was the barber.
Art is in everything. Tattoos, patterns on curtains, the painting on that wall, this spoon … everything I see inspires my art in some way.
In 2015, I submitted my name for the ‘Barber of the Year’ by Afro Hair Award. I didn’t even have a national ID. I was one of the six barbers shortlisted, and the youngest. The competition was a live performance — 30 minutes to shave your model. The judges were blown away by my work. The award didn’t come with cash but it came with credibility and publicity.
I’ve had the privilege of shaving the heads and beards of countless celebrities in this town. But the greatest person I’ve had the honour of shaving was my dad. We lost him in 2010.
I was making about Sh300 a month back in Kayole. A haircut was Sh50, beard and shaving kids was Sh20. Some people would even bargain, it was ridiculous. I was also shampooing hair, washing towels, sweeping the floor. By the time I’d made that Sh300, I’d shaved more than 20 people every day.
My greatest extravagance is clothes and shoes. I import original designer brands.
I only trust my big brother to shave my head. His name is Fally, we work with him at Castro’s. I taught him the art, he can stand in for me. My younger brother is the talented goalkeeper for Mathare Junior football club, he even got a scholarship for it. My little sister is our bookworm. My mum stays home with our last-born sister.
After leaving Kinyozi in 2014, I moved to a barbershop in Umoja. Umoinner Cuts was the dream barbershop — it was spacious, had shampoo girls, the barbers wore uniforms. One of my old Kayole clients was a barber there. He called the boss, I shaved a client, the boss had a picture sent to him, I was given the job and a uniform there and then.
The only complaint I ever get from my clients is that I’m too busy.
It was difficult for me to leave Umoinner Cuts after winning the award. I had a loyalty towards them. Eventually I moved to African Royalty, where I shaved local celebrities and grew a following on Instagram. I moved to Castro’s Man Cave at Queens House in March 2018.
It was while at Umoinner Cuts that I challenged myself to shave art. I never knew what I’d shave — I’d look at a client’s personality, the shape of the head and their hair type, then decide the art. I had many clients so I also bettered my speed. What made my work stand out was the accuracy and definition of my lines, plus the symbols had a deeper meaning.
When I see what I’m able to do with people’s hair and beards, I know there’s something special and unique about me. I want to do this for the rest of my life.