Sunday, 17 December 2017



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted December 18, 2017)

One great place to get your holiday gifts at ridiculously low prices and simultaneously support a wonderfully worthy cause is to visit the new Kuona Artists’ Collective, on Likoni Close off Denis Pritt Road.
The artists’ collective is still located where the former Kuona Trust used to be, but the name, style of organization and artists’ vision for its future is very different.
Thanks to the generosity of Kuona’s art-loving landlady, the author, publisher and human rights activist Muthoni Likimani, the artists have been able to retain their studio spaces while paying their monthly rent directly to Muthoni. Meanwhile, she aims to attract a new tenant to the house where Kuona Trust offices used to be.
“I will need to find a tenant or tenants, preferably ones happy to have the artists continuing to work on the land,” says Muthoni, who at 92, is still a shrewd business woman and writer who just published “My Blood Not for Sale”, all about modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Kuona Trust was launched back in 1995 and has experienced numerous ups and downs. But overall, it has been a space where countless Kenyan artists have worked together and developed their creative skills.
In the last year however, the Trust has gone through demoralizing times as millions were misappropriated, leaving the artists bereft. The culprits were known but no charges were ever pressed, so the artists have struggled to raise funds to cover the rent.
When the situation grew dire, and the end of Kuona seemed imminent, a light appeared at the end of the tunnel for the artists and Muthoni as well.
Kuona Artists’ Collective was officially launched last weekend with nearly all the artists dropping prices of their works to rock-bottom lows.
Indeed, what is currently for sale at Kuona up until December 22nd is art that is ‘ridiculously’ affordable art. 
But as the Collective’s Chairman, sculptor Gakunju Kaigwa noted last Saturday morning, “Those who come early will have the chance to find ridiculously low prices on outstanding works of art.”
In fact, among the leading Kuona artists who had artworks for sale at favorable prices were Dennis Muraguri, Meschak Oiro, Andrew Njoroge and Jessica Atieno to name a few.
What was especially exciting about the current exhibition and sale at Kuona is that the gallery’s storage space was opened wide and artistic gems that hadn’t been seen literally in years. Some are already gone. Others are still for sale.
Speaking about the art works in the Kuona gallery and outside on pearly white panels, Jesse Atieno explained the works were all from previous art exhibitions.
“Artists had left a few of their works at Kuona but never picked them up,” she said. “We notified them several times, but also made clear that after a certain period, ownership of the art would revert back to Kuona.”
It is these works of art that are most intriguing since very few are signed. The only ways the artist can be identified is if one of the Kuona artists can recall their name, or if a Kenyan art lover can recognize the style of an artist’s work and appreciate the incredibly good value-for-money that purchase of a particular piece would be.
For instance, there are currently both paintings and sculptures inside the gallery (which will soon be closed so the whole house can be rented out). One Kenyan art lover walked into the gallery and instantly recognized two sculptures created by Kota Otieno, a former Kuona resident artist whose works have seriously accrued in value since he opened up a studio of his own outside of Kuona.
That art lover managed to decipher Kota’s signature in small print on one sculpture. Both pieces were quickly picked up by that avid Kenyan art collector ‘for a song’!
Another two unidentified works (which were hung separately but looked like they could have been a diptych) drew the attention of another collector. As a pair, the two were slightly more costly than the collector wanted to pay. But then, when Jesse told her the artist was Tariq Karmali, a former Kuona resident who has moved to New York City where his career is flourishing, the sale was almost assured. The collector is still contemplating if she has wall space to hang those amazing works. So in the meantime, others may get a chance to own two of Tariq’s early works.
In short, Kuona Artists Collective has emerged from a challenging period, but the way forward is bright and deserves public support.

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