Tuesday, 21 March 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru

It was a little more than two years ago that Jimmy Ogongo and Michael Soi headed to the Venice Biennale in Italy to size up the most glorious global art event happening in one of the most beautiful cities In the world.

They also went to see what exactly they and other Kenyan artists had missed by not being in the 2015 Biennale. There was supposed to have been a ‘Kenyan Pavilion’ that year. But once artists discovered it was being filled with mostly Chinese artists’ works and organized by a Malindi-based Italian, they mobilized to stop the bogus ‘Kenyan’ stand which had nothing to do with indigenous African contemporary art.

It had become a struggle between the artists and the Kenya Government, [including the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Hassan Wario], since such a scheme could not have taken off without government endorsement. Ultimately, the Kenya Pavilion was cancelled. But Ogongo and Soi went to Venice anyway to ensure such a travesty never happened again.

Immediately following their self-funded trip, they wrote a comprehensive report addressed to government. They wanted to do everything professionally and their efforts apparently paid off. The government’s response was positive. It was to assure artists such a mishap would never happen again. They also promised that in 2017, there would be a Kenya Pavilion replete with Kenyans’ art.

 “It was with that assurance in mind that we went straight to work once the 2015 Biennale ended,” Ogongo told BD recently. They prepared two well-researched documents addressed to government covering everything from a history of the Venice Biennale to detailed requirements, including a budget, to ensure Kenyan contemporary art would be well represented in Venice. Even the artists chosen by Pavilion curator Ogongo to exhibit in Venice were in the second report. They were Peterson Kamwathi, Paul Onditi, Richard Kimathi, Arlene Wandera, and Kenyan-German team of Mwangi-Hutter.

They submitted both reports before the end of 2015 to ensure there’d be plenty of time to prepare the very first authentic Kenya Pavilion.

But the Government’s silence has been deafening. The deadlines for confirming Kenya’s participation with Biennale organizers passed weeks, even months ago.

“There’s less than two months till the Biennale opens in May,” observed Ogonga who has done his best to remain optimistic the Government will ultimately come through. Yet without passage of the budget, which includes everything from artists’ airfares to rent for Kenya Pavilion space, this year will become another heartbreaker and shame on the Ministry of Culture.

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