Monday, May 11, 2015


FRIDAY, May 8, 2015

Artists cry foul over alienation from international exhibitions

Kenyan artists up in arms over the alienation of local industry and demand the disassociation of the country from an event in Italy this weekend in which Italian and Chinese curators and artists plan to represent Kenya. GRAPHIC | NATION
Kenyan artists up in arms over the alienation of local industry and demand the disassociation of the country from an event in Italy this weekend in which Italian and Chinese curators and artists plan to represent Kenya. GRAPHIC | NATION 
As the countdown continues to the official launch of this year’s Venice Biennale art meeting on May 9, a small storm is brewing here in Nairobi over what local artists feel is the hijacking of the Kenyan identity in international art circles.
In Italy, pre-opening parties have already begun with a flurry and the central pavilion has also just opened, curated by the Nigerian art historian and critic Ekwui Enwezar and featuring world-acclaimed artists like Kenya’s own Wangeci Mutu.
But the burning issue of the Biennale’s hosting a “Kenya Pavilion” continues despite assurances in writing from one of the organisers that the wishes of the Kenya Government not to be associated with the pavillion will be fully recognised and respected.
That Biennale e-mail, seen by DN2, came in response to an April 23 letter by Dr Hassan Wario, Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and the Arts, to the Biennale officials.
To most people the letter was nothing more than just an expression of concern over the association of the nation with the fully foreign pavillion in Venice, but to the small group of local artists that made noise over the same, it symbolised a bigger achievement.
They had received word in mid-March this year that, yet again, a Kenya Pavilion was scheduled to be set up in Venice during this year’s event. dubbed “The Olympics of the World’s Visual Arts”, and they had immediately raised a ruckus.
“It had happened twice before in 2013 and 2003, and we didn’t intend for it to happen again,” said Michael Soi, the controversial Kenyan painter whose graphic depiction of the Chinese and Italian artists supposedly going to Venice to represent the Kenyan visual arts community had a galvanising effect on local artists.
In fact, Soi’s explicit painting set the local art world on fire once it landed on Facebook and got shared among lovers of Kenyan art, not only locally, but also worldwide.
It wasn’t long after the satiric portrait went viral on social media that scores of Kenyan artists met at Kuona Trust to strategise on how to bring down the Kenya Pavilion, or at least have the Kenya name and flag removed altogether.
Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario meets with representatives of artists to discuss, among other issues, the issue of the Venice exhibition in which no local artist had been invited to the Kenya pavillion in early April this year. Dr Wario agreed to cooperate with them in writing an official statement which would then be shared with the organisers of the Biennale, the Italian Embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan Embassy in Italy, and Mr Tanzini. PHOTO | JOY ABISAGI
Cabinet Secretary Hassan Wario meets with representatives of artists to discuss, among other issues, the issue of the Venice exhibition in which no local artist had been invited to the Kenya pavillion in early April this year. Dr Wario agreed to cooperate with them in writing an official statement which would then be shared with the organisers of the Biennale, the Italian Embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan Embassy in Italy, and Mr Tanzini. PHOTO |MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

Many of the artists felt aggrieved that Malindi-based Italian hotelier Armando Tanzini, the only individual who has consistently shown his driftwood art under the auspices of the Kenya Pavilion since 2003, felt entitled to represent Kenya with a European and Chinese team.
This year, word went round that there were two Kenyans selected to be in the Pavilion, but as it turns out, one is a Kenya-born artist living in Switzerland; and the other is Tanzini, who has stayed in Kenya for 47 years.
“A bit of racism”
When interviewed by Christopher Vourlias, writing for the online version of the Mail & Guardian of South Africa, Tanzini actually suggested his Kenyan critics were fueled by “a bit of racism”. But for most of the artists, race is not the issue; but representation and misrepresentation.
The Kenyan visual arts scene is currently vibrant and local artists are not only gaining wider appreciation among Kenyans themselves — like Charles Murito, a Google Kenya executive who currently hosts a monthly local art exhibition in his home — but also gaining worldwide acclaim — as, for instance, when Peterson Kamwathi’s artwork was recently bought for the British Museum’s permanent collection, or the other Kenyans who are exhibiting everywhere, from London to Brussels, Cape Town to Harlem.
Local artists’ reaction to the Kenya Pavilion affair is a sign that confirms the prevailing view that local art is undergoing an authentic Renaissance.
At what time in history, one might ask, did Kenyan art previously thrive? And the easy response would be that recent discoveries of 10,000-year-old rock art in Kisii and other parts of Western Kenya confirms a lot of creativity was being expressed by locals tens of thousands of years ago.
The current vitality of the local visual arts scene is evident not only in recent openings of new exhibition spaces like Shifteye Gallery, Circle Art Gallery, Red Hill Gallery, the Last Saturday Club and even the Sarakasi Dome, but also in the flourishing activity of artists who exhibit regularly at more established venues like One-Off Gallery, Village Market, Alliance Francaise, Kuona Trust, Banana Hill Art Gallery, and eateries and bars like Talisman and Que Pasa.
All this is to say that this time round, Kenyan artists were not going to take the mishandling of their name lying down. At the initial strategising meeting at Kuona, artists agreed on the way forward. They first formed a select committee to represent them.
It comprised Sylvia Gichia, professional photographer and director of Kuona Trust; Lydia Galavu, curator at the National Museums of Kenya; Judy Ogana, general manager at the GoDown Art Centre; and Wambui Kamiru, an independent installation artist.
They were asked to call for a meeting with the previously elusive CS, Dr Wario, to compel him to cooperate with artists and contact the Biennale officials and insist that the Kenya flag and name be removed from the Venice venue.
Artists understood the Kenya Government’s involvement was crucial, given that the Biennale’s own press and media relations officer, Cristiana Constaino, had stated clearly that no pavilion could have been set up in Venice unless it came “officially through government approval”.
Artists at the Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC) hold their first meeting with Dr Wario. PHOTO | JOY ABISAGI
Artists at the Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC) attending Official Press Conference with Dr Wario and artists' representative committee. PHOTO |Margaretta wa Gacheru

So the artists wanted their committee to prepare an official statement with the CS to ensure the Kenya Pavilion came down. That, though, could have seemed easier said than done since artists had tried to meet with Dr Wario several times in vain.
When DN2 contacted members of staff at the Ministry of Culture, we were also told the Ministry had nothing to do with the Kenya Pavilion at the Biennale.
So the Kenya Pavilion 2015 might have passed, just as did in 2013, when a few artists and arts stakeholders made noise but nothing was done on the part of the Kenya government to curtail what artists felt was the country’s and the artists’ gross misrepresentation.
What turned out to be significant this time round, however, was the quiet but clear-sighted role played by the Director of the Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC), Aghan Odero.
Aghan Odero, managing director of the Kenya Cultural Centre played a vital role in bringing artists and the CS together. Photo by Margaretta wa Gacheru

He had arranged a grand tour for the CS of the newly refurbished Kenya National Theatre in early April, and for that he had also invited artists and arts stakeholders to attend that tour, after which they would hold their first meeting with Dr Wario.
At that session, held in the boardroom of KCC, the CS listened to the artists and agreed to cooperate with them in writing an official statement which would then be shared with the organisers of the Biennale, the Italian Embassy in Nairobi, the Kenyan Embassy in Italy, and Mr Tanzini.
At a subsequent press conference held on April 14, the statement was read out in the presence of nearly a hundred local artists. At the meeting, Dr Wario was asked to give assurance that the statement would go to Venice, and to the relevant people, straight away.
What has come out of this controversy is, one, that the Kenya government’s Ministry of Culture has been compelled to take greater interest in the visual arts, and, two, that local artists need to keep up the pressure on the Ministry to ensure their interests are reflected by the government.
Something else interesting and more worrying has also come out; under the government of Uhuru Kenyatta, the administration of culture was lumped together with that of sports and the arts, and, according to sources within government, sports associations visit the ministry regularly to lobby for their interests. “That is what the visual artists need to do from now on,” said the government official, who preferred anonymity.
On April 14, artists were heartened by the joint statement hammered out by the CS and the artists’ committee, but they retained a wait-and-see attitude.
A week later, on April 23, they finally got the official word from Venice that the wishes of the Kenya Government would be recognised and followed.
The following day, the artists met again at Kuona Trust, ostensibly to celebrate their apparent success, but not all were convinced the issue was over and the Kenya Pavilion had come down.
“The Kenya Pavilion has been removed from the official website,” said Danda Jaroljmek, curator and co-founder of Circle Art Gallery, who is actually going to the Biennale to see the fruits of the artists’ labour for herself.
Several other artists intend to go, since some have questioned the wording of the Biennale letter as it does not make specific reference to the Kenya Pavilion, but only to the government’s wish that the flag and name be removed from all present and future publicity, apart from what has already been printed, like hard copy catalogues.
One reason for the skepticism is the cost involved in setting up a pavilion, a lump sum running into millions of shillings, so whomever invested that kind of cash in the Kenya Pavilion might not be inclined to pull it down.
One assumes that the reason curator Stagi got Chinese artists involved in the Pavilion was because they were going to help foot the bill.
In any case, the Italian Embassy in Kenya did participate with Dr Wario in speaking to the Biennale big-wigs, so one assumes the Pavilion will come down as agreed.
A poster for the Kenya Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale art meeting on May 9. PHOTO | COURTESY
The painting by Michael Soi about the so-called Kenya Pavilion which was supposed to go to Venice Biennale 2015 until Kenyann artists rallied and refused to let the Ministry of Culture allow Kenya's name be misused by Italians and Chinese. PHOTO | COURTESY of the artist Michael Soi

“The Italian embassy has also agreed to assist us with procedural issues so that we can start early to prepare for the Biennale 2017,” said Sylvia Gichia.
Additionally, new light has been shone on the origins of the original Kenya pavilion. According to sources, Armando Tanzini sent a copy of the official document confirming the Kenya government’s endorsement of his Kenya Pavilion concept to one member of the local artists’ committee.
As at the start of this week, when we finished compiling this story, the identity of that government official in the Ministry of Culture had not been revealed.
“It was felt that the name of the signatory should not be disclosed since it would reflect badly on Dr Wario, given that the person works within his ministry,” said a friend of the artists.
What that means, in essence, is that, officially, Tanzini’s Kenya Pavilion, which was being curated by another Italian, Sandro Orlandi Stagi, was actually sanctioned by the Kenya government and, as such, the Biennale organisers did not technically need to take down the pavilion.
But since the artists rallied and got the CS, apparently a higher ranking official than the signatory, to step up to the plate and support their community, the artists’ initiative has come through.
Be that as it may, Kenyan artists say they will only be convinced the ordeal is be over after their colleagues return with eyewitness accounts of the absence of a Kenya Pavilion in Venice. Until then, they are still on high alert and several are fundraising for tickets to Venice.
So, technically, the saga continues. The vigilance, now combined with the vibrancy of Kenya’s visual arts, is bound to ensure Kenyan artists’ role in the global as well as local art worlds is assured for many years to come.


Saturday Nation
Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mukabi now has space of his own

Artist Patrick Mukabi shows off some of his
Artist Patrick Mukabi shows off some of his works of art at his newly established studios at the Nairobi Railways Museum on May 2, 2015. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 
Kenyan artists have been clamouring for more space — to set up studios, hold art exhibitions, congregate with fellow "creatives" and occasionally find mentors to guide them, given we don’t have a proper National Art Academy as yet.
So they were pleased to hear the minister for Culture, Hassan Wario, tell a contingent of artists (who had come to discuss the Venice Biennale) that he expected a Kenya Art Centre to be built next to the newly renovated Kenya National Theatre in the near future.
There’s no telling when that will be, so even better news just came in — Kenya’s best-known artist (for his role as Baba Supaa, the children’s art instructor on the TV show "Know Zone" segment of Makutano Junction), Patrick Mukabi, moved his art studio to the former Kenya Railways Museum Art Gallery on April 1st.
It is especially good news for young artists who frequented his studio when it was at GoDown Art Centre, some of whom have since made names for themselves in Nairobi’s thriving art world. Among them are Dickson Kaloki, Mike Kyalo, Nadia Wamunyu, Alex Mbevu, Florence Wanjui and Andrew Otieno.
Mukabi rarely, if ever, turned an aspiring artist away while at the GoDown, but clearly, as a prolific painter in his own right, he needed more space, especially as he encouraged his students to hang their finished art works for the public to see. In fact, many people used to go to GoDown just to see Mukabi and his mentees at work.
Now they’ll have to find their way to the Railway Museum, where Mukabi’s new Dust Depo Artist Studio is a much larger space.
Following a precedent set by his secondary school art teacher, Mr Musumbi, who always welcomed students to his studio at any time of day, Mukabi also welcomes prospective students of all ages to come visit his studio. Currently, those he instructs range from age five up to over 50.
“I also teach all over Nairobi,” says the artist, who travels from art centres in Kayole and Mukuru in Eastlands to more academic centres like Brookhouse, Braeburn, ISK and Hillcrest schools.
Yet as indefatigable an art instructor as he is, Mukabi is also a prolific painter whose latest work is a monumental wall mural (2.5 metres by 7 metres) permanently resident at the new terminal at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. 
“Its theme is ‘Lamu Old and New,’ highlighting both the people and the potential changes likely to come with construction of the new Lamu port,” said Mukabi whose students helped him to mount the mural at JKIA.
“But all the artwork is mine. I first did sketches, then painted (in acrylic) on canvas and then my students helped me attach the canvas onto wooden boards, which then went up at the airport.”
Mukabi was born in Nairobi, but he’s familiar with all parts of the country, including the Coast, where he frequently went by rail, accompanying his father, who, like his father before him, was employed by railways.
“My grandfather was a ticket inspector so he always travelled from Mombasa to Kampala and back,” recalled Mukabi, who admits it’s rather remarkable the way he’s found his way back to the Railways, which is essentially where he grew up!
“My father was an executive with the Railways so we often travelled with him (always in first class) as a family. It was similar to what his father did after his mother passed on.
“That meant my father grew up learning all the local languages of people who lived along the railway line, from Kiswahili and Kikamba to Kiganda and Hindi,” he said.
Knowing that background makes it easy to understand how Mukabi is such a genial and gracious man who can fraternize with anyone.
Starting the study and practice of art in primary school at the Coast, he’s been fortunate to have excellent art teachers all the way through his years at Eastleigh Secondary, the Creative Art Centre and finally at the Kenya Polytechnic, where he studied graphic design.

JOSEPH 'BERTIERS' MBATIA: Kenya's most versatile visual arts storyteller

SUNDAY, May 10, 2015

Bertiers Mbatia: Gifted artist who breathes life into metal

STORY by Margaretta wa Gacheru (see below)
Mbatia at the Kenya Art Fair 2014. PHOTO|
Mbatia ( in white jacket) with Barclays CEO
Derrick Krystal of Kitengela glass (left) with
Bertier at Tafaria Caste, home to some of his
Growing up, Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia used to be known as a cheeky trouble maker, a boy who barely made it through school because he discovered his creative calling at a very early age.
Fortunately, he had a few teachers who appreciated his artistic talent and nurtured his obvious potential by giving him coloured pencils, paper and occasionally even paints.
Otherwise, he never meant to be defiant. He just knew he loved to draw and got inspired by everything around him, from the lions on Simba Unga and Simba Chai packets to Safari Rally cars to wall paintings he’d see outside the butcheries, bars and beauty salons painted by the renowned “bar artist” — the late DBC Ringo Arts.
“At home, I’d be beaten by my mum whenever she caught me drawing instead of doing my homework, and at school I had one headmistress (Wanjiku) who used to pinch my ears every time she found me drawing in class,” says Mbatia.
But the beatings didn’t deter him. Instead, he even found inspiration and even humour in the pain. “After she’d let go of my ears, I’d go straight back to drawing only then I’d make fun of her pinching me.”
Ever the humourist who could make fun of the most painful personal experiences, Mbatia recalls how he even got the name “Bertiers” as a sort of joke.
“Finding a nickname for yourself was what all teenage boys at my (Mutu-ini High) school did, so I just played around with names until I came up with Bertiers, which many people tell me sounds French.”
Ironically, his name would come in handy years later when he won his first major award given as a collaborative prize by both French and German Cultural Institutes in 2006. “They were commemorating 50 years since the two countries officially made peace (after World War 2)”, he recalls.
The prize included a grand tour of the two European countries where he visited major art galleries, museums and artists’ studies.
“The same year, I was number eight out of the top 10 award-winning artists at Dak’Art in Senegal,” he says, noting the accolade was meant to include trips to Dakar and southern France where he’d been given a two-month art residence.
Later that year, Mbatia would become an even more seasoned globe-trotter, travelling first to Scandinavia where he and his art would be part of the “Africa Now” mobile art exhibition that went from Denmark to Norway and Finland.
But in between he made it to the US where he had another successful exhibition in Seattle, Washington.
The trip was especially significant to Mbatia since his paintings had been regularly exhibited and sold out of a Los Angeles gallery ever since he met American art dealer Ernie Wolfe outside the Wasafiri Hotel in Dagoretti back in the early 1980s.
“The Wasafiri was actually where I had my first exhibition,” says Mbatia, who’d started hanging his storytelling-style of paintings up at the popular tea “joint” soon after he’d completed a three-year graphic design course at the YMCA Craft Training Centre.
“I used to paint on old metallic plates after I’d scrap off the original Malaraquin ads; then I’d hang them anonymously and sit in a corner at the hotel and listen to what people had to say about them,” he remembers, indirectly confirming that his style of visual storytelling has elicited curiosity and public commentaries ever since he began taking his art into the public domain. 
He’d always assumed the public didn’t know who the artist was; but one day as he was coming home from a day’s work at Chibuku (where he’d been employed as a graphic designer in 1985), he saw a huge crowd near the hotel.
“Once I got near, people started shouting, ‘There he is, there’s the guy.’ Then I saw a tall white man emerge from the crowd, stretch out his hand to me and introduce himself.”
His name was Ernie Wolfe, the Californian art dealer who bought up all of Mbatia’s metal-plate paintings that day and launched a relationship that (despite having its ups and downs) would last up to this day.
Wolfe is the first serious art collector to appreciate Mbatia’s brilliance and begin commissioning him to create series of paintings, after which the artist would ship them to the US.
“By today’s standards, people might say he paid me peanuts, but at the time I was grateful to have that steady income,” the artist tells Lifestyle. “My wife always reminds me that that is what enabled us to buy our land (near Dagoretti) and build our first (mabati] house).”
The other thing that Wolfe gave to Bertiers was advice on what to paint. “He liked my style of painting, but as I was relating to local topics that struck a chord among Kenyans, he asked me to broaden my perspective so that my art could relate to a more international audience.”
Advising Bertiers to start reading Newsweek and Time magazine as one of the ways he could broaden his painterly perspective, the artist credits Wolfe for suggesting he paint about global topics, everything from the first Iraq War to the OJ Simpson and Monica Lewinski sagas to specific events unfolding in Europe and Asia.
“For a time, I knew more about international events than local ones,” he said.
Nonetheless, despite his painting primarily for an American clientele, Mbatia’s art and sign-drawing skills were still in great demand locally. “I was still painting (wall or bar art) in butcheries and salons, much like DBC Ringo had done.”
It was the “bar art” that one German (working for GTZ) saw and subsequently sought out Mbatia, encouraging him to hold an exhibition at Goethe Institute. “Ast Guido is the one who helped me get my first show at Goethe in 1992,” says the artist.
Today, Mbatia’s art can be seen all over Kenya, in parts of Africa (Senegal and Tanzania) as well as internationally. Most recently his paintings have been on display at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi National Museum and the Nairobi Art Fair where his booth won the prize for being the second best-attended.
But, ultimately, Mbatia’s amazingly intricate scrap metal sculptures may be the art that he will be best remembered for. Like his realist paintings, his sculptures also capture iconic images straight out of Kenyan everyday life. And as with his paintings, he injects heavy doses of humour into his works.
The extraordinary fact about his scrap-metal characters is that he only learned how to weld a few years back. “The man who came to weld the windows of our (new stone) house inspired me to learn to do it myself,” he said. Now he’s teaching young men and women who he recruits to join his youth group, DARTS, which is short for Discovering Artistic Talents.
“In the same way that my talents were discovered and nurtured by others, I want to do the same for young Kenyans who have artistic talent but need to be discovered,” Mbatia says.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Why banks are investing in Kenya’s art

Paul Onditi showcases his art work at Kuona Trust. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE
Paul Onditi showcases his art work at Kuona Trust. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE 

Posted  Sunday, April 19  2015 at  15:52

Barclays Bank will next year mark a watershed moment with the celebration of its 100th anniversary of operating in Kenya.
Yet in all that time the bank’s primary activities have understandably been in banking, not the arts, particularly not the visual arts.
So it was a truly unique moment when Barclays sponsored the Atelier art competition and exhibition in partnership with Kuona Trust and the National Museums of Kenya where the exhibition was held during the Easter weekend.     
Barclays is not the first bank to support the visual arts in Kenya. Stanbic has, for instance, been supporting the Circle Art Agency (now Gallery) since its inception in 2012. Its banners have been conspicuously displayed during both of Circle’s East African Art Auctions as well as at its other exhibitions.
Earlier in 2012, it was the Standard Chartered Bank that sponsored the first African Portraits exhibition, which was inspired by that bank’s permanent collection of Global Portraiture based in London.
Meanwhile, Commercial Bank of Africa was a major sponsor of the 2013 East African Art Summit organised by the GoDown Art Centre and attended by artists from all over the region.
And way back in the 1990’s, ABN Amro Bank regularly sponsored the Kenya Museum Society’s annual Kenya Art Fair. What’s more, in 2010 Deutsche Bank named the Kenyan artist Wangeci Mutu ‘Artist of the Year’ making her the first artist in the world to win the prestigious award.
But just because other banks recognised the vibrancy, vitality and value of the visual arts in Kenya sometime before Barclays did, doesn’t diminish the moment and the fact that the Barclays’ Atelier competition has opened up amazing – and unprecedented -- opportunities to the six award winner artists whose names were announced on April 2.
At minimum, the six winning Kenyans (selected out of 32 who responded to the call to artists that came out in early February to submit their best works) will have regional exposure when their art is exhibited with the finalists from four other African countries at the prestigious Absa Gallery in Johannesburg.
The Absa has been involved with the Atelier ever since the art competition was established 30 years ago and today its permanent collection is said to be the second largest corporate art collection in the world.
Granted the majority of the art assembled is by South Africans since up until this year, the Atelier was only for artists from that country.
In fact, the Kenya Six are part of a historic sea change in the regional arts scene since 2015 is the first time the bank has extended the competition to include other African countries and not just South Africa alone.
This year Kenya is just one of five African countries whose artists’ works will be displayed in Johannesburg and adjudicated by a professional team of jurists. The other four are Botswana, Ghana, South Africa and Zambia.
“Gradually, the competition will extend to even more countries in the region,” said Raj Shah, Barclays’ head of investment banking based in Nairobi.
“But frankly we chose to begin by reaching out to our most vibrant (and lucrative) local markets, since we want our clients involved in the Atelier as well.”

Admitting the idea of extending the reach of the Atelier competition to other parts of the region was a corporate decision that came from the top, meaning Barclays head office in the UK, Mr Shah said he was pleased to be part of this progressive process.

In fact, Atelier might have died back in 2006 when Barclays bought Absa (Amalgamated Banks of South Africa), the banking institution that had the vision to see not only the aesthetic but the economic potential of the visual arts 30 years ago.
It was that vision that led to the establishment of Atelier (Art Competition) in spite the country being in the thick of troubled times, and 1985 being when Apartheid was apparently still going strong.
It was thanks to Barclays’ appreciation for what Atelier has achieved over the years, especially in the way it has attracted both national and international attention, and elicited interest from all sectors of South African society, that the bank chose not just to keep the competition going locally but to extend it region-wide.
Again, other corporations in Kenya, not only the banks, have gradually come to see the advantages of supporting the arts (a practice that is frankly done in many other parts of the world).
Probably the best evidence of this trend can be seen in local hotels like the Serena group, the Fairmont chain, the Sankara and the Tribe where Kenyan artists’ paintings, murals and sculptures are visible everywhere.
Restaurants have also come to see the value of working closely with local artists by giving them space to mount their exhibitions which they’ve discovered not only beautify their walls, gardens and corridors but also frequently expand their client base since the art transforms their eatery into a mini-art gallery.
A number of these corporates have also purchased African art work not only for its aesthetic value but also for its investment potential.
“One only had to look at the prices Kenyan artworks were fetching at Circle Art’s last (East African) art auction a few months back to recognise that appreciation for the art’s investment value is being widely recognised,” said Mr Shah.
“Personally, I can’t buy a work of art unless I love it and look forward to having it in my home,” he confessed.
“I can’t buy something just because I’ve been told such and such an artist’s prices are bound to shoot sky high. I have to buy what I personally like, but that is my personal preference,” he said.
Nonetheless, his wife Leena Shah, an artist in her own right, told me their home is filled with Kenyan art. “It’s almost like an art museum since we both enjoy Kenyan art,” she added.
One of the local judges, Carol Lees, the founder and curator of One Off Gallery, said that even if the six didn’t win in the top ten this year, Kenyan artists now knowing the Barclays Atelier competition is an annual event, is bound to serve as a catalyst to inspire them to create even more exciting artwork.
In fact, apart from the exposure the artists and their art will receive through Atelier, the top prize includes a cash award of Sh1.2 million to be dispersed during a six month all-expenses paid sabbatical (equivalent to an art residency) at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris.
Upon their return they get a solo show at the Absa Gallery.  The top ten artists will all receive cash prizes as well as a two-day art professionalism course and a year’s worth of mentoring to foster their personal, professional and artistic growth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Artists turn the country into an exhibition zone                                                                                      

Ivy Achieng with a painting instructor at National Museums of Kenya. PHOTO | ANTHONY OMUYA 

Posted  Tuesday, December 23  2014 at  16:08
In Summary
  • There were consistent exhibitions underway all year long at local galleries, like One Off, Banana Hill, Red Hill and the ‘new’ Nairobi Gallery where the Murumbi collection showed off everything from rare stamps, jewellery, costumes, crafts to out-of-print books from all over Africa.
Kenyan artists were incredibly inventive in 2014, turning the Capital city and other parts of the country into venues where the visual arts could be seen, not just by patrons and private investors but by the public at large.

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There were consistent exhibitions underway all year long at local galleries, like One Off, Banana Hill, Red Hill and the ‘new’ Nairobi Gallery where the Murumbi collection showed off everything from rare stamps, jewellery, costumes, crafts to out-of-print books from all over Africa.

The Nairobi Gallery operates under the auspices of the National Museums of Kenya, where the Creativity Gallery mounted exhibitions of art by mainly young Kenyan artists throughout the year.

One major exception to the youth rule was Creativity’s giving free reign to veteran Kenyan artist Yony Waite (co-founder of Gallery Watatu with the late Robin Anderson and David Hart), whose exquisite exhibition entitled Into the Trees is still up for all to see.

The Nairobi Museum also hosted two important expositions in 2014 by the Kenya Museum Society (KMS). One was of the amazingly diverse drawings and paintings by the late Joy Adamson. The other was the annual KMS Affordable Art exhibition featuring artwork by Kenyans that had to be sold for less than Sh100,000.

Meanwhile, exhibitions were also held at art centres like Kuona Trust, Paa ya Paa, GoDown and the Kenya Cultural Centre – which finally opened up an exhibition hall in the last year.

Foreign cultural centres like the Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute, Italian Institute of Culture and the Heinrich Boell Foundation were also sites where paintings, posters, photography and sculptures were regularly on display. Heinrich Boell is especially notable as it served as the launching pad both in 2013 and this past year for the new Kenya Arts Diary, the annual calendar cum visual arts catalogue of works by both upcoming and veteran Kenyan artists.

Major shopping malls like the Village Market and Sarit Centre also became spaces to peruse amazing art exhibitions. Sarit deserves a special mention since it hosted the first ever Nairobi Art Fair that was organised by Kuona Trust with support from Textbook Centre.

Restaurants like Talisman, Que Pasa, Carnivore and Lord Errol also have become sought-after sites by artists keen for their works to be seen by the upmarket clientele that eat out at such luxurious settings.

And despite Le Rustique having moved up to Nanyuki from Nairobi where it was always filled with fresh, new Kenyan art, the restaurant continues attracting artists who want their works seen by potential art patrons.

In the same vein, high class hotels and private clubs like the Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi, Diani Beach at the Coast and the Capital Club in Westlands had beautiful exhibitions this past year. The Kempinski’s most notable one was the East African Art Auction organised by Circle Art Agency in November.

In addition to all the above, visual art both by Kenyans and other East Africans could be seen in exceptional locations throughout the year. For instance, Kuona Trust held an artists’ residency and exhibition early last year at the Tafaria Castle near Nyahururu.

Both the Sondeka Festival and the Nairobi Craft Fair took over the Nairobi Race Course to display not just art, but also jewellery, crafts, hand-made furnishings and even original Kenyan fashion.

Several foreign embassies opened up the residences of their high commissions and ambassadors to mount exhibitions featuring mainly artworks by Kenyans. That was true of the Russians, Americans, British, Belgians and Mexicans, all of whose senior state representatives warmly welcomed local artists and friends into their homes.

There were exhibitions in people’s private gardens, backyards and private homes as art patrons hosted exclusive dinners so their friends could meet and eat with local artists. Occasionally, whole houses were reserved so that artworks could be shown.