Nigerian Curator Contributes to Cosmopolitan Kenya

PROMOTING PAN African Art IN A CLIMATE OF COSMOPOLITANISM BY Margaretta wa gacheru Published February 2013 in Business Daily, Nairobi Nairobi has been taking on an increasingly cosmopolitan and even Pan African character in recent times, at least in the realm of the visual arts. There are several factors that have contributed to this trend. One is that art centers like Kuona Trust, Banana Hill and Red Hill Art Galleries all are bringing in visiting artists from around the region for exhibitions. Kuona Trust has been especially dynamic in this regard, having accelerated its artists’ residency program to include not only Ugandans and Tanzanians in its rigorous art residencies. It has also had artists from Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria and UKcoming to create original art while rubbing shoulders with some ofKenya’s most original and experimental artists. Another factor is the recent launch of the Circle Art Agency, a new art consultancy firm aiming to link Kenyan artists to the global art market as well as grow an indigenous art market. Headed by a former Tate Modern curator, Fiona Fox, Kuona Trust’s Danda Jaroljmek and avid art collector Arvind Vohara, the agency also aims to cultivate greater appreciation of thecontemporary Kenyan visual art scene which is vibrant but not yet well known. The other factor that has enhanced a cosmopolitan sensibility on the local art scene is a Nigerian curator named Oluwatosin Onile-Ere Rotimi or Tosin for short. It was Tosin, for instance, who’s responsible for bringing the bright young West African artist Phillips Nzekwe to Nairobi’s Kuona Trust for a two-month art residency, the fruits of which are currently on display at the Nairobi Art Centre since February 17th. It was she who also introduced Nairobi art lovers to the acclaimed Ghanaian painter Kofi Agorsor when she curated an exhibition of his art at the Banana Hill Art Gallery a year ago. The petite art consultant/curator came here from Abuja with her family in late 2010, but she didn’t leave behind her passion for contemporary African art. Prior to coming, she had been an active promoter of West African artists, including renowned Nigerian artists like Bruce Onobrakpiya and Niki Seven Seven as well as acclaimed Ghanaian artists like Nyournuwofia (a.k.a. Queen of women) and Agboola Adisa as well as others from Benin, Cameroon, Senegal and Togo. So what else is Tosin bringing to Kenya besides her curatorial background and keen affection for African art?Probably the biggest thing she’s doingcurrently is organizing the first East to West African Biennale in Kenya, scheduled to open this September in art centres around Nairobi. Planning to include artists’ works from more than a dozen countries, Tosin sees the EtAW biennale as not only a bridge between west and east Africa.She also plans to organize workshops for local and Pan African artists, conducted mainly by artists she represents. Phillips Nzekwe is one of the artistslikely to volunteerin the EtWA workshops, if he is still in Kenya come September. His current exhibition at NACreveals his prodigious output of both sculptures and three-dimensional relief paintings, all of which were produced during his stay at Kuona. Some of his most intriguing art is painted and sculpted in mixed media (from saw dust and sand to acrylic paints, wire mesh and newspaper scraps) on corrugated iron sheets. His Neighborhood Moods, for instance derives from his time spent in local slums where he found rare beauty amidst poverty, single mothers featuring prominently in that piece. His sculpted horse and rider in Matatu Stories is a metaphor forthemadcap phenomenon common in both West and East Africa, namely ordinary people having to go places fast, and thus latching ontohigh-speed matatus. Combining the anatomical eye of a Remington (the 19th century American sculptor) with the social realism seen inJosephBertiers’ matatu art, Nzekwe’s skillful sensitivity and knack for quickly picking up the Kenyan energy is apparent at the Art Centre. Nzekwe has already had a one open day at his Kuona studio, but his current exhibition allows a wider art-loving public to see his ingenious work for themselves. As his agent, Tosin says her promoting his art is in keeping with her main motivation which is “to help grow an indigenous art market because that is where the future of contemporary African art needs to thrive. We need to stop looking outside the region for a market for our art; we need to gain greater appreciation of the beauty that exists right here so we don’t lose any more African art to collections and galleries in other parts of the world.”


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