Kennedy Munala Atsullu, the winner of the Sh300, 000 first prize in the Nairobi County Visual Arts Exhibition for his mixed media sculpture.
Putting a monetary value on contemporary Kenyan art isn’t an easy thing to do.
Some say it is valueless and young people especially should not waste their time on it. These are the educators and politicians who felt justified in removing Art as an examinable subject from the schools’ curriculum.
Others respect Kenyan art so highly that they get representative pieces of it into leading galleries and museums all over Europe and America.
Many in this latter category also collect contemporary Kenyan art simply for the love of it or as an assured investment that can only accrue in value over time.
In Kenya, the best evidence that creating home grown art can be both a fulfilling and lucrative enterprise is the annual Nairobi County Visual Art Exhibition, also known as Manjano.
Artists at Manjanao can win anything between Sh15,000 to Sh300,000 in the adjudicated competition that accompanies the exhibition itself.
First prize winner in the Manjano Student Category was Elstardt Kegen’s Nai Ni Nani. pix by wa Gacheru
This year’s Manjano winners, who were announced on Thursday night at the Village Market, included both students as well as seasoned local artists.
Six in all were selected out of the 175 artworks submitted for consideration. The three student winners received Sh15,000, Sh30000 and Sh50000 while the more experienced artists got Sh75,000, Sh150,000 and Sh300,000.
Keeping everyone present at the Village Market Exhibition Hall in suspense, Judy Ogana, the director of the GoDown Art Centre (which organised the exhibition and ran the adjudication process) announced the winners in the student category first.
Mark Gisiora took the third place for his mixed media painting Waste Gate, Samira Saidi took the second position for City Rush and Elsardt Kegen Amulyuta’s painting Nai Ni Nani won first place.
Two of the three student winners, Samira and Gisiora, are currently being mentored at the GoDown by art instructor Patrick Mukabi.
Patrick Mukabi, artist and mentor par excellence, has tutored many Manjano award winning student artists. This year he mentored two: Samira Saidi and Ken Gsiora. pix by wa gacheru
The winning trio in front of Samira Saidi’s second prize winning painting.
In previous years, since Manjano was first established in 2010, Mr Mukabi’s students have consistently won awards for their art and creative expression.
In 2010, the lead organiser of what was then the annual Nairobi Provincial Art Exhibition was the Department of Culture in collaboration with the GoDown.
Unfortunately, that first year, the government allocated only Sh35,000 for the entire exhibition, so there were no cash incentives to artists.
Once the GoDown took charge of the exhibition, the value of Kenya’s art was monetised, with Sh620,000 set aside for prizes alone. Michael Soi, whose art is currently on exhibition at Alliance Francaise together with that of Thom Ogonga and John Kamicha, won Sh300,000 that year.
This year the Sh300,000 went to Kennedy Munala Atsullu for his mixed media sculpture entitled Manyanga wa Embakasi.
The second prize of Sh150,000 went to Dennis Muraguri for his mixed media collage entitled Bus Stop and the third prize of Sh75,000 went to Moses Nyawanda for Koinange Street Reloaded.
Second prize winning painting is Bus Stop by Dennis Muraguri who won ksh150,000
In 2014 it seemed there were many more artists submitting their work in the student category than in the seasoned one.
One reason for this shift, according to some of the more experienced local artists, is because they feel that having their art hung side by side with that of students was a “put down” and would depreciate the value of their art.
Other seasoned artists like Dennis Muraguri said Manjano offers opportunities for all visual artists to be appreciated both socially and monetarily. His winning the second prize in the mature artists’ category vindicated that point of view.
The adjudicators were selected by the GoDown for their experience, neutrality and unbiased perspectives on Kenyan art.
They were Thom Ogonga, a painter and arts blogger; Wendy Karmali, formerly a curator with the National Museums of Kenya and Oluwatosin Onile-Ere Rotimi, a Nigerian arts consultant currently based in Nairobi.
A number of observers and connoisseurs of Kenyan art present on Thursday night saw the reality of more young artists submitting their work to Manjano than the older more established ones as a healthy sign since it suggests new blood and a more expansive field of creative expression coming alive in Kenya.
What is clear from the overwhelming support among young artists for Manjano is that the visual arts are becoming an important asset to Kenya’s creative economy and generating monetary value and wealth for the country’s ‘creatives’ who are based in the arts and culture sector.
Unfortunately, the government has not yet followed precedents set by various UN agencies to calculate what percentage of the country’s GDP is currently being generated by the creative economy, (revenues earned in the arts and culture sector), but hopefully that will be forthcoming.
Currently, a country like the UK generates more than 12 per cent of its GDP from its creative economy. Kenyan ‘creatives’ claim they can generate even higher percentages than that in the near future.
Manjano is a significant factor stimulating the sort of interest in and enthusiasm for the visual arts that will help make that claim a reality.