Three Visual Art Galas Showcase Artistic Excellence By margaretta wa gacheru. PUBLISHED IN BUSINESS DAILY OCTOBER 2013
Over the next month(oCTOBER), no less than three grand gala events will take place collectively confirming the fact that Nairobi has become the hub—not just of IT development—but of East Africa’s thriving visual arts scene.
More than that, all three galas are attracting not only local and regional attention. They are also generating a global buzz as witnessed by the fact that so many international guests will be in attendance. “i’ve had several phone calls from overseas, from art lovers who say they’re flying into Nairobi especially to place their bids on the art of their choice,” said Danda Jaroljmek, one of the co-founder/directors of the Circle Art Agency which is organizing its first Modern and Contemporary Art Auction November 5th at the brand new five star Villa Rosa Kapinski Hotel in Westlands.
The public are welcome to come see all 47 specially selected East African artworks for a full three days before the actual auction. But the event itself will be a formal attire-type occasion in which all seats will be reserved for those actually bidding on the art. “Otherwise, we won’t have sufficient seating for everyone,” said Danda. Most of the art will be by Kenyans such as Peterson Kamwathi, Michael Soi, Justus Kyalo and Anthony Okello. But there will also be artworks coming from Tanzania and Uganda as well as Sudan and Ethiopia. Not since the early 1990s when Gallery Watatu’s Ruth Schaffner assembled excellent artworks by mainly Kenyans has anyone seen an art auction of the kind and calibre that the Circle Art Agency intends to host and which takes place regularly overseas at places like Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s where eight Kenyan artists’ works were auctioned off in London recently. The two other exceptional events upcoming later this month are the grand opening of the Murumbi African Heritage Collections at the Nairobi Gallery on the last day of Heroes Weekend, which is Monday October 21st and the newly revived Kenya Museum Society’s Annual Art Fair taking place the weekend of October 25th through 27th after a hiatus of seven years. It will be held at the Nairobi National Museum in the courtyard behind the Louis Leakey Auditorium. Part of the Grand Opening of the Murumbi AH Collections showcase will be the staging of what Murumbi Trust director Alan Donovan calls ‘the final’ African Heritage Art Festival. There’ll be brief talks by veteran East African artists whom Murumbi especially admired such as Kisii soapstone sculptor Elkana Ong’esa and others. Donovan will also set up seating for 400 guests and throw down a ‘red carpet’ outside the Gallery for local models to walk down wearing original AH fashions which fuse traditional Pan African textiles with modern designer motifs. Inside the Nairobi Gallery itself, six of the seven rooms will be filled with Murumbi-AH collections including everything from fabulous jewelry, art and artefact to Pan African stamps, rare books and traditional textiles coming from all across Africa. The one room reserved for rotating East African art exhibitions will this month showcase the art of Ancent Soi, while next month is likely to feature the works of another veteran East African Jak Katarikawe. The works of both artists were admired and collected by the Murumbis. Finally, after a lapse of seven years, the Kenya Museum Society is resuscitating its annual Art Fair at the Nairobi National Museum over the weekend of October 25th through 27th. More than 125 mainly Kenyan artists responded to the online call sent out by Art Fair coordinators, Museum curator Lydia Galavu and KMS’s Wendy Karmali who previously served as the of the Museum’s gift shop/gallery manager/curator in the 1990s. What’s exciting about this year’s art fair (apart from its revival to the relief of many local artists who seriously missed the fair while it was gone) is the large number of up-and-coming artists, many of whom will be exhibiting for the first time at the fair. At the same time, there will be a great many more established Kenyan painters and sculptors who are well acquainted with the value of the Art Fair where art sales are practically assured, given the KMS have strict rules about the pricing of artworks. “The idea being that the art is affordable (not exorbitant) so that both the buyers and the sellers go home happy that they took part in this year’s Art Fair,” said Dr. …. Stone, KMS chair. All three events are sending a signal to the global art world that good ‘stuff’s happening’ artistically in the Kenyan art scene which can no longer be ignored since ours is one of the most vibrant and dynamic art worlds in the whole of Africa.