Monday, 13 March 2017


By margaretta wa Gacheru

There’s much to be said about Kenya’s thriving art scene. But one big factor that’s not always underscored is that not only Kenyan, but East African artists broadly are making an immense contribution to the vibrancy of our Nairobi art scene especially.

That point was well illustrated last month when the ‘Modern and Contemporary East African Art Auction’ drew attention to the brilliance of artists from Ethiopian, Seychelles, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda as well as from Kenya. Sales from the auction totaled more than KSh19 million, which is just one indicator of the growing interest in East African art.

It’s also an indicator that Nairobi is increasingly being seen as the artistic hub of the region. Another sign is the sort of show underway in the city right now. One is the group exhibition of seven Sudanese artists at Red Hill Gallery which its curator, Hellmuth Rossler-Musch says will be extended a week beyond the official closing date of March 19th. He added it won’t interrupt the opening of Onyis Martin’s solo show which will open early next month.

The other sign of regional artists contributing to Nairobi’s thriving art scene is the ‘Artist Talks’ that have been taking place over the last month at Brush tu Art Studio. The most recent one happened last Saturday when the Ugandan artist Lukwago Saad spoke about his artistic evolution. Preceding Lukwago was another Ugandan painter, Kasagga Jude, and before him was the Tanzanian sculptor Safina Kimbokotu who gave an Art Talk at Brush tu which was streamed live as part of a British Institute of East Africa program on Nairobi.

The other venue where East African artists are often exhibited is at Banana Hill Gallery where currently, works by the Tanzanian artist Haji Chilonga are on display until the end of March. Banana Hill’s Shine Tani has specialized in reaching out to invite a wide range of mainly Ugandan and Tanzanian artists, many of whom have already exhibited at his gallery. Among them are Lukwago, Kasagga and many others.

And last night, Goethe Institute also confirmed Nairobi’s status as a regional centre for the arts. With its new program, Artistic Encounters, curated by writer Zukiswa Wanner, we just saw the Nigerian artist Victor Ehikhamenor team up with the Zambian poet Koleka Putuma to shape an amazing evening of both visual and poetic charm. Chaired by Dr Wandia Njoya of Daystar University, we look forward to more Pan African events at Goethe.

Red Hill Gallery’s exhibition of seven Sudanese contemporary artists is not to be missed. It includes only a fraction of Hellmuth’s complete collection of works by painters influenced by the ‘Khartoum School’. The School itself was started in 1960 out of University of Khartoum’s Fine Art Department by three artists committed to creating artworks that synthesized indigenous Sudanese imagery and modern Western art trends.  

All seven artists represented at Red Hill studied at University of Khartoum. They include Eltayeb Dawalbeit and Hussein Halfawi, both of whom live in Nairobi, Abushariaa Ahmed who currently stays in Kampala, Salah Elmur who’s exhibited in Nairobi severally, Hassan Salim who’s based in South Africa, the late Noman Fari, and Issam Hafiez who’s back in Khartoum.

It’s Hafiez’ diptych, ‘The Liberation of Women’ that I enjoyed most in the exhibition. It wasn’t so much the title that appeals as Hafiez’s figures, blended together in muted hues of green, that express so much joy, freedom and vitality .

All seven artists have distinctive styles despite their shared background. So it’s well worth a trip up Limuru-way to see the Sudanese show at Red Hill.

Some art lovers also find trekking to Buruburu an unsettling journey. But it too was worth spending an afternoon last Saturday with a mix of East African artists who’d come to hear Lukwago Saad speak about his evolution as an artist. He and the other two artists-in-residence will have a proper exhibition from April 8th at Kuona Trust.

Both Lukwago and Kasagga have exhibited at Banana Hill Gallery as have a wide array of other East Africans. Shine has done laudable work by going directly to the artists and inviting them to come share their artworks with Kenyans.

Alan Donovan is another one who intends to enhance the regional appeal of Nairobi’s art scene by bringing works a show of some of Nigeria’s finest artists to the Nairobi Gallery. Before that happens however, he’ll curate a contemporary Kenyan artists’ exhibition featuring Boniface Maina, Michael Musyoka and David Thuku from April 18th.

Finally, the annual Manjano visual art exhibition at Village Market opens March 18th and 25th featuring first ‘professional’, then ‘student’ artists respectively.

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