Saturday, 30 December 2017


                                     Picasso's Nudes can fetch millions at a Christie's or Sotheby's Art Auction

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 30, 2017)

Most artists don’t like to talk about money.

I know of only one who freely told me, “You would be surprised how many millionaires there are among our Kenyan artists.” He didn’t have a problem talking about money because he shamelessly sells some of his art cheaply so that ordinary Kenyans can afford to buy. And they do! But at the same time, he is a savvy art salesman who also creates larger and more elaborate works which he manages to exhibit in galleries and museums all over the world.
Some artists complain bitterly about art critics and reporters who want to know how much their works are selling for. In fact, all anyone needs to do to get the answer is to attend exhibition openings or visit those same shows while they’re ongoing. Then, one only needs to read the labels printed below the art to discover the artist’s name, the title of the work, the media used, and the price tag which is determined by the gallery together with the artist.
The artists who are most sensitive about exposing the high prices their artworks sell for don’t always put specific numbers on those definitive labels. Instead, they allow something like ‘Price [disclosed] by request’ to be there. Usually such opaque phrases mean that either the price is negotiable or it is higher than the general public needs to know.
When artists are asked why they don’t want to discuss money, they either claim it is ‘crass’ and ‘uncouth’ when the issues that ought to matter are ones related to aesthetics or ‘ideology’ as one artist put it.
But another artist claimed the public might get the ‘wrong impression’ if they heard one of his artworks sold, for example, for a million shillings. “I might not make another sale for six months so that money would have to stretch over an extended period of time,” he said.
And another artist who is especially annoyed by art reporters who probe into his financial affairs has practical reasons for keeping quiet on the topic. “I work with a lot of local people while creating my art,” he said. “If they knew how much I make for my art, they might not work with me anymore,” he added.
The implication of his statement was that he paid these freelance collaborators little or no money for whatever it was that they contributed to his art. But if they discovered he was making a bundle from their collaboration, they’d certainly treat him differently. They might even demand a percentage from his sales or not want to work with him anymore.
There are those few artists who freely boast about their artwork selling at high prices. For instance, when the Ngecha-based artist Wanyu Brush sold a painting for Sh2 million during a three-man exhibition at the now defunct Gallery Watatu, he and the gallery’s managing director Osei Kofi, talked widely about Wanyu’s success. Other people retold the story to convince parents that if their children took up the study and practice of art, they wouldn’t have to be poor. The old stereotype about ‘starving artists’ would no longer need to apply to them. In that way, the story of Wanyu’s [Ms1] wonderful windfall became legendary.
Something similar happened not long after Wanyu’s successful sale. It was that the Bonzo Gallerist and artist Adrian Nduma went on Kenyan TV with the Little Art Gallery director William Ndwiga  to announce that one of Adrian’s paintings had just sold for more than Sh2 million!  According to William, the phones at that particular TV station rang off the hook after their interview. People were inquiring where they could get the necessary training for their kids so that they too could one day make expensive and saleable art like Adrian’s.
Whether many parents have actually changed their minds about wanting their children to become doctors and lawyers but not sculptors and painters, isn’t clear. What I’m told is that most parents only want their kids to have financial security and a career in fine art is still questionable as far as most Kenyan elders are concerned.
Young people on the other hand are often prepared to take the risk, especially as they are seeing the way art is not only paying off for some Kenyan artists. More importantly, they see Art as the field that will allow them to express their creativity, identity and inner voice. And as many of them see it, the money is bound to come after that. And for quite a few, that is the case.

Friday, 29 December 2017


                                        James Mbuthia will be exhibiting at One Off Gallery in 2018

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 29, 2017)

The New Year is already looking promising, what with many art venues already booked into mid-year and a few actually lined up solid with solo and group shows until the end of 2018.

For instance, One Off Gallery already has the brilliant elder statesman of Sudanese contemporary art Rashid Diab coming to open the gallery’s first solo exhibition of the year, featuring his latest works at the end of January.

Thereafter, there are back-to-back British artists coming to exhibit at One Off. First will be Lizzie Thurman opening at the end of February. She will be followed by Lisa Milroy who met One Off’s Carol Lees while in transit from the Kakuma Refugee Camp (where she teaches art via satellite) back to London where she’s based at the Slade School of Fine Art. Ms Milroy also exhibits at the Tate Modern where she coincidentally is a Trustee.

“Kenyan artists will fill the rest of our calendar year,” confirms Carol, “starting with James Mbuthia [who worked closely with her when they were both at RaMoMa Museum].”

Another gallery that is already booked up with several sterling solo exhibitions is Banana Hill. According to the gallery’s Shine Tani, following the close of Sebastian Kiarie’s solo exhibition in mid-January, the gallery will host Congolese artist Bezalel Ngabo whose last solo show was at Alliance Francaise.

Following Bezalel will come Samuel Njuguna who began his artistic career working with Banana Hill artists. Then will come the return of another artist who has close ties with the gallery. Ronnie Ojwang is based in Kampala but his family is also Kenyan since he’s married to Shine’s daughter. And after Ronnie the next solo exhibition will be by Tanzanian artist Haji Chilongo. Like Ronnie, Haji is no stranger to Kenya. In fact, his artworks was recently exhibited in the GTB show curated by the Little Gallery’s William Ndwiga.

Meanwhile, Circle Art Gallery is preparing for its annual East African contemporary Art Auction which will be held this year on March 12th. According to Circle’s co-owner-curator Danda Jaroljmek, her event has been renamed. “It’s now to be known as ‘The Art Auction – East Africa’,” says Danda who’s been busy for months assembling interesting works from all over the region.
The British Institute of East Africa has also been busy over the course of last year establishing itself as an important venue where up-and-coming Kenyan artists have a chance to hold inaugural solo exhibitions. One artist who’ll be showing his works in March at BIEA is Evans Maina Ngure who’ll be exhibiting both his ‘junk art’ paintings and wind chimes as well as his ‘wearable art’.

If it sounds like exhibition space in quite a number of Nairobi art venues is filling up fast, there’s no need to worry. There are several opportunities that have opened up for Kenyan artists who want to share their works with wider audiences.  One of them can potentially be found with online galleries, some of which are based abroad. But at least two were newly established in Nairobi this past year.
The newest online art gallery is KendiArt which was launched last December by Christine ‘Kui’ Ng’ang’a, and already has ‘traffic’ looking at artwork by some of our freshest contemporary Kenyan artists. But more than just looking at the art, Christine worked hard to research the most viable and efficient ways for people to buy Kenyan art as well as receive it without complications or delays.
The other online art gallery is GravitArt which was launched earlier in the year by the Spanish architect and visual artist Veronica Paradinas Duro. She began work on her online gallery last April, but actually inaugurated it several months later with the first of two Pop-up exhibitions at unconventional spaces. The first Pop-Up show was Veronica’s way of widening public awareness of GravitArt’s online presence. It was held at the Saffron Spa in Westlands.  Subsequently, she took a trip to Egypt where she met several exceptional artists whose works are now part of the gallery’s growing Pan-African collection. They were also exhibited in GravitArt’s second Pop Up show, this time held at the Ikigai business centre.
So while she’s keen to generate greater and more global interest in her online gallery, Veronica is also pleased to be part of Nairobi’s burgeoning contemporary art scene.
So both on- and off-line, Kenyans are working to get the word out that there’s an exciting contemporary art scene right here which cannot be ignored.


Posted originally 28/3/2014

Congolese artist dominates Francophone show

Bezalel Ngabo with Joseph the Dreamer.
Bezalel Ngabo with 'Joseph the Dreamer'. Photo/MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
In Summary
  • The positive messages in his paintings probably have nothing to do with his rigorous training, except perhaps to give him the courage to consistently depict Biblical themes in his art.
  • For instance, the most colourful work in his current show at Alliance Francaise is a semi-abstract diptych entitled ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ which depicts the Old Testament patriarch using mixed media: kitenge, acrylic paint, paper, thread and collage.                                         
Bezalel Ngabo is the only indigenous Congolese visual artist who featured in the Francophone Fortnight at Alliance Francaise. He’s also the only one out of the three who trained formally in fine art.
Both Yves Goscinny and Xavier Verhorst are self-taught which, however, doesn’t diminish the value of their art. But Bezalel’s five years at the Kinshasa Academy of Art is apparent in his lovely mixing of colours and his ingenious use of kitenge cloth in his collage paintings.
The positive messages in his paintings probably have nothing to do with his rigorous training, except perhaps to give him the courage to consistently depict Biblical themes in his art.
For instance, the most colourful work in his current show at Alliance Francaise is a semi-abstract diptych entitled ‘Joseph the Dreamer’ which depicts the Old Testament patriarch using mixed media: kitenge, acrylic paint, paper, thread and collage.
The Secret of Creation’ reflects his love for both the Book of Genesis and the Gospel according to John. The irony is the painting is monochromatic, not rainbow multi-hued. He says blood red symbolizes for him the beauty of love.
His association of love and shades of red is even more apparent in his ‘Love World, the World I dream of’ which is the only one of his paintings that is strictly abstract, suffused with splashes of red, maroon, yellow and white.
Bezalel’s been in Kenya since 2002 and in that time, he’s exhibited all over Nairobi, from the National Museum, Banana Hill and Braeburn School to Village Market, Valley Arcade and a range of restaurants (Seven Seas, Talisman, Osteria).
Currently keen on kitenge and collage, Bezalel’s most exhilarating painting for me in his AF collection is called Le Pagne or Kitenge in which he “celebrates the uniqueness of Africa,” an expression that could apply to his entire contribution to the group exhibition.

Thursday, 28 December 2017


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 28, 2017)

Despite running his own off-line TV station in Githurai which he switches on especially for guests who come to see him at his home studio, Evans Maina Ngure prefers to be known as a Junk Artist rather than a DJ or anchor man.
He also doesn’t mind being called a Scavenger, but surely not a socialite or celeb since he really doesn’t have time to be seen in ‘high society.’ In fact, he’ll only be there if it’s to make a special delivery of one of his junk works of art.
Nonetheless, Evans could easily be described as an entertainer since he’s a sort of mobile junk fashion model whose wearable art is ever-changing and much sought after. He’s entertaining because he’s something of a trend-setter, a guy who rouses public curiosity since nobody knows what new hand-crafted item he’ll be wearing next.
Mostly, Evans is known for his junk-art jewelry which appeals to both women and men, especially among youth under 30. In fact, both men and women are keen on his hand-crafted metal pendants and leather wrist cuffs. But even his accessorized belts and leather bags are most marketable.
Nobody seems to mind that Evans’ jewelry, bags and other leather goods are redesigned from ‘found objects’ that he collects in jua kali joints and junk yards all over Nairobi.
Over the holidays, he says his scrap-metal wind chimes have also been best-selling items.
“It’s not easy to get scrap metal since the market for it is huge. The biggest buyers are Chinese who send it in bulk back home to be melted down and reused for making cars and other goods,” Evans explains.
The Kenyatta University graduate (2013) is surprisingly conversant in scrap-metal sales since he not only uses it in his jewelry- making but also in his junk art ‘paintings’ and especially with his wind chimes.
On the local scrap-metal market, he says a kilo of aluminum goes for Sh150 while iron goes from Sh15-Sh30 and stainless steel can fetch as much as Sh250.
“At one point in my life (after university), I was down with the chokora collecting iron nails that I sold so I could eat,” Evans admits.
Fortunately, his life has picked up since then thanks to the man’s resourceful ingenuity and shameless style of transforming trash into treasures.
In the New Year, Evans’ off-line TV show is scheduled to be screened at the British Institute of East Africa. Otherwise, you can see it in Githurai.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017



By Susan Wakhungu-Githuku and Natalie Githuku

Footprints Press

Reviewed by Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 27, 2017)

Susan Wakhungu-Githuku shares the spotlight and authorship with her daughter Natalie this time round as the publisher of Footprints Press comes out with her latest canonical tome.
It was just a few months ago that Susan came out with ‘Visual Voices’, another substantial book that vividly documents the dynamic cultural scene of Kenya currently. It’s a massive and beautiful book that already occupies the centre of attention on countless Nairobi coffee tables.
Now that book may have to move over slightly since ‘Nairobi 5453 Ft.’ has just been released and it’s also bound to capture the public’s attention with its multifaceted approach to exploring the life and times of this remarkable city.
There have been a multitude of books written about Nairobi in the past. But none has been as ambitious as this two-volume text. Not that it’s steeped in statistics or geological data or even paleontological facts of the kind that made other parts of Kenya world-famous (such as the Leakey family’s fossil finds at Olduvai Gorge).
Instead, what this Nairobi book does is capture the rapidly-changing pace of life in the city. It apparently aims to put multiple fingers on the steady pulse of everyday life. And with a combination of personal texts and insightful testimonies, candid as well as classic photographs and vivid paintings reflective of so many facets of working people’s lives, the two books reveal a kaleidoscopic portrait of our shameless city.
Nairobi 5453 Ft. doesn’t try to paint a stereotypic picture or tell a clich├ęd story of a ‘green city in the sun’. Nor does it negate the reality of the city’s magnetic appeal. What it does do is present a multifarious perspective with one book filled with what the authors call ‘Photographic slices’ and the other sub-titled ‘Personal Musings.’
The photography is by some of Kenya’s finest photographers. Among them are Bobby Pall (who has often worked with Footprints on its other beautiful books), James Muriuki, Mutua Matheka, Joe Makeni, Thandiwe Muriu, Osborne Macharia and Jolene Wood among others. What’s fascinating about their work is that each photographer has a distinctive style which contributes to the variegated view of the city.  
The vivid paintings which are sprinkled throughout the books are by award-winning Kenyan artist Elias Mong’ora. The cartooning and graphic designing of the book are also key factors contributing to the overall appeal of the two texts. And even the varied font sizes that appear in big bold print arrest our attention and alert us to the fact that one can study these book for hours and still need more time to read and understand all there is to appreciate about our unique global city.
But it’s the ‘personal musings’ that further flesh out the complex essence of Nairobi. One thing about the 35 individuals whose musings are in the slightly thinner of the two books is the honesty of their appraisal of the city. Most of the 35 are ‘natives’ of Kenya; others are migrants who moved in some time back and adopted the city as their own. But all have strong sentiments about what they like and don’t like about Nairobi. Or as Joe Wainaina put it, “Love it or hate it, this is home sweet home.”
The one question most people will ask about Susan’s and Natalie’s book is what ‘5453 Ft.’ in the title means? The answer is to be found in the small print at the front of both books. 5453 feet is the elevation of the city at the Railway Station where the first city-wide photo found at the front of both books was snapped. Who took that photo isn’t specified.


                                                           Martin Githinji (left) stars as Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar 
                                      THEATRE THRIVED IN 2017

                                         Victor Nyaata was a star often opposite Nick Kwach in Heartstring comedies
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 27, 2017)
2017 was a year of spectacle, satire, storytelling and several memorable solo performances. It was also a time when hardly a weekend went by without at least one show being staged, and often there were more.

                        Dance Centre Kenya staged Urban Groove illustrating they do contemporary dance not just ballet.

Most consistent, of course, were comedies by Heartstrings Entertainment, a company that has tapped into urban youth’s funny bone with its style of social satire that always seems to hit home.
Heartstrings' last show of 2017 was Nobody is Leaving

And as resident playwrights go, none was more prolific this year than Martin Kigondu who not only wrote and directed several new scripts. He and his Prevail Arts also produced shows like ‘What Happens in the Night’, ‘Matchstick Men’ and ‘Love and Peace’ (adapted from poetry by Joan Sikand).
Playwright-producer-director Martin Kigondu with members of Prevail Arts Productions

Many of our best playwrights and actors sadly shifted over from the stage to film and TV.  Fortunately, there were several, like Mugambi Nthiga, Martin Githinji, Nice Githinji, Kaz Lucas and Elsaphan Njora who managed both spheres. The draw was apparently working with a professional like Stuart Nash at the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio which is based at Kenya National Theatre.

                                                    Elsaphan Njora (centre front) in Grease with cast for NPAS cast
It was NPAS that staged spectacular musicals this year and called on those six professionals (among others) to star either in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ or ‘Grease’. Both shows set high standards of performance.
                                                                        A scene from Aperture Africa's Robin Hood.

But they weren’t the only marvelous musicals performed in 2017. Aperture Africa and Amar Desai are specialists in creating superlative special effects. That skill was apparent with their staging of ‘Robin Hood’ at Oshwal Theatre.

But special effects weren’t all RH had going for it. From choreography to costuming and set design, Amar goes no-holds-barred. The story itself was steeped in an artistically crafted class analysis as Robin robbed the rich and shared the spoils with the poor. He was pursued by arguably the best villain of the year as Bilal Wanjau was brilliant as the nasty Sheriff of Nottingham.

And just as Kenya National Theatre attracted other spectacular shows like ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Urban Groove’, so Oshwal Theatre was home to another children’s musical, ‘Alladin’ that also appealed to adults.  

But the other set of thespians who gave performances that transcended barriers of age, gender and class were the storytellers. They came in all shapes, sizes and storylines, featuring everyone from Muthoni Garland’s Nyef Nyef to Mshai Mwangola-Githongo’s Performance Collective (including Mueni Lundi and Aghan Odero) to Maimouna Jallow’s Re-imaginings.
Storymoja Festival was also filled with stunning storytellers. But so was the cast of Silvia Cassini’s ‘A Man Like You’ which came back to Kenya after having traveled to Southern Africa and the States. In the process, three out of the four-person cast staged solo storytelling session.

Both Zimbabwean cast members, Kevin Hanssen and Mike Kudakwashe, gave amazing solo performances in between starring in Cassini’s gripping drama.  Davina Leonard also performed the highly engaging ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ when she wasn’t being the grieving wife in ‘A Man like You.’
The other solo star this year was Mumbi Kaigwa who performed poetry by great African American and Indigenous American poets, including Maya Angelo, Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Sherman Alexi. Music interludes were by her singer-songwriter daughter Mo Pearson.

Earlier in the year, Mumbi directed a stellar cast of women in The Vagina Monologues, arguably the best interpretation of the Eve Ensler classic to date.
The other major activities that engaged thespians and writers alike were two important festivals. One was Jalada’s Mobile Literary and Arts Festival that performed in Kenya and in several other East African countries. Jalada is best known for being an Online Pan-African literary journal. But once they performed Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ‘Upright Revolution: Why Humans Walk Upright’ in seven languages during the esteemed writer’s brief trip to Kenya, the journal also established its performance credentials.

The other festival that illustrated how seriously a new generation of Kenyan thespians are taking theatre was the 2nd Kenya International Theatre Festival. KITF brought together performing artists from Eastern and Southern Africa to partner with performers from Kenyatta University.

What the KU productions confirmed was that the university needs to reach out to a wider audience, especially now that performance venues in Nairobi have proliferated.

For while it is true that 2017 saw the demise of Phoenix Theatre, we also saw productions at KNT, Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute, Braeburn Theatre and Louis Leakey Auditorium. But we also saw shows at new venues such as Kwani, The Tribe, The Elephant, Point Zero Coffee, Purdy Arms and Uhuru Gardens as well as at Oshwal Centre.


The Accidental African (posted Dec. 27, 2017)

It was by accident that Sally found herself on the largest continent in the world, a land mass that could contain the USA and Russia as well as China and still have space wherein to keep sheep and goats and ducks.
It was her mother who precipitated her coming to a land she’d hardly given a thought to before she was forced to consider where in the world she’d want to go if given the freedom to choose. Otherwise, Africa was only the land where African-Americans had come from. It was a place that had been robbed blind of centuries. Of that she was sure since she’d grown up among Black people and with a benevolent mother who employed them regularly.
Frankly, Sally’s first nanny was Black. She recalled from the age of three, it would be Charlotte ironing the family’s laundry while she was meant to be napping. Then there was Jean the cleaning man who would arrive through the back door, come through the kitchen where her mother would invariably be standing at the sink washing something or other, and then Jean would disappear into the basement where he’d change into his work clothes and proceed to vacuum the three other stories of Sally’s big old red brick house. 
But it was Leo that she knew best. Leo came after Jean and he had been the driver for many years of a local millionaire who used to take him on trips around the world, so fond was the rich man of Leo. Also, Leo clearly had become indispensable, just as he had to her mother. For Leo was not only smart and resourceful. He was also loquacious and loved chattering away for hours with her mom in the kitchen once he’d completed whatever tasks he’d been given that day. For Leo wasn’t just a cleaner. He was a handyman who could fix anything which was one other reason he became indispensable to whatever employer he had. But above all the other attributes that Leo had, he was honest. The only other quality he had that her mother loved most was his rare ability to listen to her, something few people did in the way that Leo was able to do.
Sally’s mother had stories, a multitude of stories, especially about her own upbringing, her family and even about the Black nanny that brought her up while her own mother was being the Grand Dame of Evanston. Sally used to hear many stories about Roxy. She was the one person in her mother’s early years who taught her the value of affection and emotional honesty. She also taught her mother superstitions which were remarkable for a woman of her background to believe and also to practice. Things like knocking on wood whenever she’d say something positive and knock to scare the demons away. We weren’t allowed to walk under ladders or walk on separate sides of street signs or poles. All sorts of beliefs did my mother pick up from Roxy, but by far, the most important was the compassion and empathy and appreciation of black people’s humanity. In my heart, sally know her mother was not a racist. But her class background meant that she was thrown into those inescapable master/mistress-slave relationships. But having been brought up by Roxy who became her surrogate mother, there was no way she could ever have held that black people were less human, less worthy or less intelligent than whites like herself.
The big problem Sally’s mother had faced was marrying the man her mother told her to despite her caring for a man I never met, Frank Cooper. Mother Helm as Sally’s grandmother was called (Mother for short) felt her daughter Marjorie’s future would be more secure if she were in the keeping of Dr. Shaw, the man who became Sally’s father.
That marriage somehow had a great deal to do with Sally’s becoming an accidental African. But let me not leap ahead of myself. The point was that Dr Shaw was quite a bit older than Marjorie, had come from a very different background and was very much married to his medical career. He was a brilliant MD who was dedicated to his patients, but that meant he left Marjorie alone for hours on end. What made that worse was when he was home, he never had time to take the family on vacations other than Sunday dinners and trips to Key Biscane when anyone got sick. Otherwise, Marjorie had her dreams of seeing the world but they remained dreams and press clippings that she would regularly cut out of the daily newspaper and would then carefully file alphabetically, just in case she ever had a chance to go to Fiji or Florence or take that Rhine River boat trip she had always longed to do.
Sally speculated that the reason her mother pushed the Rotary Foundation application papers in her face one day after she had graduated from university was so Sally wouldn’t have to get stuck and stay at home forever as she had done. Sally wondered if her mother wanted to live vicariously through her journeys, but was undoubtedly part of Marjorie’s motivation. But she also had wanted her daughter to experience the freedom that she had never had. The fact that that one gesture, giving Sally those papers and insisting she complete them right away, was going to seal both Sally’s and her mother’s fate. Sally would soon be ‘gone baby gone’, rarely to return. The accidental African was about to be born.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017


TICAH's Dream Kona opened up new spaces for Kenay artists to be creative, experimental

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 24, 2017)
                                  Michael Musyoka's Hunting Grounds IV was in the Young Guns show at Cricle Art Gallery 
2017 has been a thrilling roller coaster ride. Mostly the roll has been uphill with new spaces opening up all over town (from The Attic to Safron Spa to Dream Kona and BIEA to name a few). Meanwhile, the more established art centers mounted many amazing exhibitions (like ‘Proximity to Power’ at Circle Art, The Nude at One Off and Eclectic at Red Hill).

                                 Peterson Kamwaithi's Untitled etching was in One Off Gallery's Nudes 2 exhibition
There were also a number of downhill slides, as when The Art Space closed, Kuona Trust got robbed, finally died, but then resurrected as Kuona Artists Collective, and three artists were actually banned from exhibiting at the Nairobi National Museum.
There was never a dull moment in Nairobi’s robust art world in 2017 what with graffiti artists finding new walls to spray-paint all over town. Then there were cartoonists taking on larger issues like ‘Climate Change’, ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ and even Migration and refugee art power.

                                                One of Michael Soi's Motherboard images 
What’s more, a multitude of aspiring artists headed to the Dust Depo Studio to get their mentoring from Patrick Mukabi whose gentle greatness was recognized recently when the newly re-elected President and the First Lady, Uhuru and Margaret Kenyatta attended Dust Depo’s annual Christmas party!
Artists did themselves proud this year, what with their representing Kenyan Art at the Venice Biennale and at other international art events.
                                 Paul Onditi was among the Kenyan artists who exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2017
Some won major awards as did Maral Bolouri and Elias Mong’ora at the APSA L’ Atelier in South Africa. Meanwhile others, like Cyrus Kabiru and Wangeci Mutu had their iconic art picked to be part of the new Zeiss Museum of Contemporary Art Africa based in Cape Town.
           Cyrus Kabiru's C-Stunners were given a whole room for their exhibition at the Zeiss Museum of Modern Art Africa
And in spite of the somewhat toxic political climate that disrupted many aspects of Kenyans’ everyday lives, various art institutions provided a valuable sense of continuity to our cultural life. For example, there was Circle Art’s annual East African Art Auction (which is now renamed The Art Auction – East Africa), GoDown’s Manjano Art Competition and Exhibition, and even the Sarit Centre’s Kenya Art Fair, all of which went on like clockwork in the course of the year.
                      Elias Mong'ora's Nairobi scene at Manjano 2017 also features in Footprints' 'Nairobi 2523' book

And while increasing numbers of artists traveled abroad this year, either to accompany their exhibitions or attend workshops or art residencies, Brush tu Art Studio successfully organized Kenya’s second international artist residency. (The first was at Paa ya Paa starting in the 1970s and running through 2000’s).
Brush tu Art sculptor Boniface Kimani's 'Anguish' (cast in cotton thread& polyester resin) at Polka Dot Gallery

Meanwhile, the corporate community has increasingly come to appreciate the role of contemporary Kenyan art. Among the banks especially, we’ve seen how the Kenya Commercial Bank expanded its art collection of works by Kenyans this year. So have the Commercial Bank of Africa and the I&M Bank. Meanwhile, Barclays was the backer of the L’Atelier competition and just before the year ran out, the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) supported a beautiful exhibition of a dozen Kenyan artists the Kempinski Hotel. 
(Peter Elungat's Garden and Coster Ojwang's Gilgil both showed at Kempinski courtesty of GTB&Little Art Gallery)

Malls have also picked up on the value of beautifying their centres with Kenyan artists’ works. For instance, Two Rivers and Lavington Mall both decided to decorate their public spaces with marvelous mosaic tile murals by Mary Ann Muthoni. The Hub selected Peter Ngugi’s concept of a monumental Coffee Tree which now stands 12 feet tall in the centre of the newest Karen mall.

                                   Peter Ngugi's Coffee Tree at The Hub in Karen (made out of spoons and soft steel)
But even as major investors like Garden City and PriceWaterhouseCooper have supported important art projects in the recent past (sculptures by Peterson Kamwathi and Maggie Otieno at Garden City; monumental wall artworks by Dennis Muraguri and El Tayeb at PWC), public interest among ordinary Kenyans has also picked up.
In fact, there were several ‘affordable art’ show in 2017. They attracted large crowds and enabled folks with smaller pocket books to buy Kenyan art. There were shows at Nairobi National Museum (sponsored by Kenya Museum Society), the Polka Dot Gallery and the newly formed Kuona Artists Collective.

                              Paul Njihia and James Njoroge drew caricatures of passing art lovers at 2017 exhibitions 
But one of the biggest disappointment of 2017 was the downing of the iconic Mau Mau Freedom Fighter at Paa ya Paa. Samwel Wanjau’s priceless sculpture can potentially be repaired and restored to its prior glory. But this malicious deed deserves to be investigated by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Sports.
If there is one good deed that the Ministry could do in 2018, it’s stepping in to repair Wanjau’s Freedom Fighter and put it in a safe and secure place so it can be enjoyed by both locals and people from all over the world.
Nairobi has already been called the ‘economic’ hub of East Africa. The arts initiative of 2017 confirm the city is also the Arts Hub of East Africa.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017


                Co-authors of Nairobi 5453 Ft. Susan Wakhungu-Githuku and Natalie Githuku


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 19, 2017)

The Lord Erroll Restaurant was transformed into a vibrant performance space this past Sunday afternoon when its entire garden, veranda and entry corridor were booked for the day by Susan Wakhungu-Githuku and Footprints Press.
Ostensibly, the program was a simple book launch of the latest Footprints publication. But with Susan, nothing is ‘simple’. Better to think in terms of luminous and luxurious words like performative, gracious, elegant and posh. 
Lord Erroll’s had become ‘The Place to be’. That day it was a place where corporates, ‘creatives’ and consultants intermingled with media, select medics and just a few well-chosen politicians like the former Kenya Vice President, the Hon. Moody Awori.
It was actually Moody who set the tone for the entire afternoon. That was after all the guests (who’d been advised to dress up in high-style) had been seated at white linen-topped tables under canopy-type tents and served High Tea.
Moody also came after Susan, with the co-author of their book, ‘Nairobi 5453 Ft.’, her daughter Natalie Githuku, welcomed all the guests to this grand event.  
Mother and daughter were the two brilliant masterminds behind the production of Footprints’ brand new two-volumed book. Susan explained it had taken no less than three years to put it together, a factoid one can easily believe.
The slimmer book, entitled ‘Nairobi 5453 Ft – Personal Musings’, featured personal reflections (or musings) by 35 carefully-selected Kenyans as well as brief bios of almost 20 ‘creatives’, mainly photographers and painters, all of whom had contributed to the beautification of both books.

The thicker book, entitled ‘Nairobi 5453 Ft – Photographic Slices’ includes no less than 27 multi-colored perspectives on the city ranging from Nairobi’s ‘Humble Beginnings’ through its ‘Contemporary Business Environment’ and ‘Budding Innovation’ through to ‘Youthful Exuberance with a Global Edge’.
Each chapter opens with a big bold-lettered summary of what comes next. Then what follows are glossy, full-paged photographs which are either black and white (true of the older archival snaps) or color. Either way, the images are animated, attentive to detail and shot by some of Nairobi’s finest photographers. They include master image-makers like Mutua Matheka, Thandiwe Muriu, Osborne Macharia and Joe Makeni. And since Susan clearly didn’t want to miss out on the main masters, she also called upon Bobby Pall, James Muriuki and Jolene Wood to contribute to creating a full and multifaceted set of images of her beloved city.
But if that Sunday was meant to be a book launch, Susan and Natalie had already decided to make the day performative. Moody was there to eloquently set the artistic ball rolling.
The former VP was the first of several superlative storytellers, poets and local stars who would share their own ‘musings’ for the remainder of the afternoon.
Moody’s memory is clearly sharp as a tack since he took his audience all the way back to his early arrival in Nairobi from Busia County. Recalling the cleanliness of the city back then (a concern mentioned by several others, including the illustrious Director of the Kenya School of Law, PLO Lumumba, who also reflected back on Nairobi’s once well-kempt city streets), Moody could have continued all afternoon to weave strands of sonorous stories about his ever-evolving city. But there were others on the program.
Susan had essentially designed a vibrant Variety Show to accompany the showcasing of her newest books. The performers were mainly personalities featured in ‘Personal Musings’ thus giving us a feeling for what we might find in the text. 
There were poets like Aleya Hassan and Marcus Tan de Bibiana who shared their insights on the city. There were also eloquent public speakers like Dr Lumumba, John Sibi-Okumu and Catherine Ngugi.
Susan had even invited Nairobi’s newly-elected Deputy Governor of Nairobi, Polycarp Igathe to speak about his practical plans for fixing the city and restoring its image to the best of what it had been before.
Yet not everybody who shared their thoughts on Nairobi were kind. Some were cynical about cruel moments when Nairobi had been hard on her own. Yet others, like Sibi Okumu spoke hopefully, comparing Nairobi to Bethlehem. He even broke into song (being the natural entertainer that he is) crooning about that ‘little town’.
It was impossible not to be enthralled by the stylish-sort of book event that Susan and Natalie organized. It was difficult not to be compelled to buy the book just to see what other incredible insights Nairobians had shared about their city. In fact, the books reveal just as much about the city’s citizens as it does about the city itself.