Monday, 25 September 2017


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted September 25, 2017)

The Nairobi art scene is literally exploding as the number of exhibitions underway, just ended or about to open is unprecedented.

All the way from Kilileshwa, Kilimani and Karen over to Lavington, Banana Hill and Roslyn and then back to Westlands, and the CBD, the visual arts are flourishing.

In part it’s due to several new art spaces opening around the city including The Attic in Nyari (showing works by Longinos Nagila and David Thuku), The Metta in Westlands (with works by Drishti Vohra) and McKinsey’s in PWC House where artworks by sculptors like Gakunju Kaigwa, Meshak Oiro and Kepha Mosoti as well as painters like Mary Ogembo, Njogu Kuria and among others are on display.

It’s also because hotels have increased their interest in exhibiting good Kenyan art. For instance, Sankara Hotel just opened a new ‘First Generation’ exhibition featuring paintings by Sane Wadu and Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos. And tomorrow, Dusit D2 Hotel will open its monthly Pop-Up Gallery including works by artists like Mercy Kagia, Kipruto Rop, Njogu Kuria, Nadia Wamunyu and Deqa Abshir among others.

Then there are the art galleries and foreign cultural centres that have also stepped up their game. For instance, One Off Gallery is revisiting the theme of Nudes due to the positive response generated by the first Nude show last August. So rather than turn down the heat, Carol Lees’s invited artists like Peterson Kamwathi, Yony Waite, Tabitha wa Thuku and Leena Shah to join artists who’d shown during the first Nudes show (Olivia Pendergast, Talal Cocker and Anthony Russell). Come tomorrow afternoon and expect the unexpected!

Several Kenyan men have complained about nudity invading the Kenyan art scene. But the former anatomical art instructor, Dr Mercy Kagia says that without nude models (be they men or women) art students especially would have difficulty learning to accurately paint and draw the human body.

Meanwhile, Circle Art just opened with paintings by the leading Wajukuu artist Shabu Mwangi. Banana Hill Gallery is in its last days showing portraits by Nduta Kariuki and Njogu Kuria. Thereafter, paintings by Uganda artist Herbert Kalule go up tomorrow. And the Little Art Gallery just curated a three-man show at Village Market featuring fabulous figurative artists, Peter Elungat, Patrick Kariuki and Clavers Odhiambo. Described by show’s curator William Ndwiga as ‘a dreamer, an observer and a [hyper] realist respectively, some critics argue that realistic art is passe and out of fashion. But these artists don’t care. Neither do art collectors who’ve amassed countless artworks by all three painters.

Then from October 1st, an exhibition of art by award-winning artist, Elias Mongora opens at Polka Dot Gallery. Just named among the top ten winners of the APSA-Barclays L’Atelier Art Competition, Elias’s rise in public recognition has been meteoric.

The number one winner of L’Atelier 2017 is Kenya’s Maral Bolouri for her installation, ‘Mothers and Others’. She’ll be exhibiting in a group show curated by Zihan Herr from October 25 at Goethe Institute.

Three other art centres working together to host the Nigerian Art Festival opening October 1st (coincidentally Nigeria’s National Day) are the Nairobi Gallery, National Museum and Alliance Francaise. In all, over 20 Nigerian artists’ works will be displayed, including original works by Nigeria’s most venerable visual art elder, Bruce Onobrakpeya. All the art was shipped to African Heritage House director Alan Donovan by the largest art centre in West Africa, run by the international acclaimed Nigerian batik artist, Nike Okundaye (formerly Nike Seven Seven Davies) who’ll be in Kenya by late October.

This will be Mr Donovan’s 2nd Nigerian cultural festival in Nairobi. The first was in the late Sixties after the former USAID worker had left Nigeria, having been based in Biafra during the country’s civil war.

The other local art centres exhibiting Kenyan and African art currently are BIEA showing artworks by Leevans Linyerere, Kuona Trust featuring paintings by Samuel Githui, Nairobi Museum displaying prints and paintings by John Silver Kimani and Kobo Gallery showing artworks by three Pan-African artists who’ve been in residence at the Brush tu Art Studio the last three months. They are Stacey Okparavera of Nigeria, Timothy Wandulu of Rwanda and Lionel Yamadjako of Benin.

Finally, a story about the exploding appreciation of Kenyan and African art wouldn’t be complete without mentioning last Friday’s opening of the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) in Cape Town. Billed as the biggest African Art museum in the world, Zeitz is showing two of Kenya’s most internationally-known artists, Wangeci Mutu and Cyrus Kabiru.

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