By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 November 2018)
While there is speculation about the government possibly endorsing a Museum of Art, there was also loose talk about Kenyan artists having nowhere to show their visual art, which is patently not true!
A new art space opens practically every month in Nairobi and those sites don’t just cater for ‘established artists’ and ‘elite’ clients.
For instance, there is a new gallery that opened yesterday (22 November) in the Rossyln Riviera mall. Not long before that, The Attic Art Space opened in Nyari. Before that, Polka Dot gallery opened. And somewhere along the way, Kobo Trust opened up an art gallery as well.
Plus there are countless eateries that are happy to host young artists’ exhibition. Take the Talisman, Que Pasa, the Fonda, Lord Erroll and even the new La Terrazza in the Green House, just to name a few.
Also there are a number of fairs and festivals where artists exhibit, such as the Nairobi Art Fair, Affordable Art Fair and other annual events where artists eager to exhibit often find their way to them.
Artists’ studios have also turned into exhibition sites where young artists are also able to sell their sculptures and paintings. Those include places like Brush tu Art Studio, Kuona Artists Collective, Dust-Depo, Maasai Mbili, GoDown, Studio Soku, Kobo Artists’ Studio and even Kitengela Glass.
Shopping malls like the Village Market also accommodate a multitude of artists. Plus, many of the malls also have commercial galleries inside where energetic artists go and showcase their work.
Hotels like the Norfolk, Kempinski, Sarova Stanley and Intercontinental also frequently exhibit the works of Kenyan artists. So do foreign cultural centres like Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institute.
The United Nations has a recreation centre that also has art exhibitions occasionally. So does the new ‘Dream Cona’ art space out in Uhuru Gardens.
And lest we forget the galleries, one that hasn’t gotten much attention is Nairobi Gallery based right next to Nyayo House. It’s affiliated with the National Museums of Kenya as is the Creativity Gallery at Nairobi National Museum which is always holding shows for up-and-coming artists.
Finally, there are a number of well-established galleries like One Off, Red Hill, Circle Art, Banana Hill and Tribal Art which some might say are ‘elite’ but they all have a role to play in Nairobi’s burgeoning art world.
There’s little doubt that Kenya needs a National Art Gallery like ones existing in Nigeria, South Africa, USA, UK and France. But in the meantime, most of the galleries, studios and malls are alive with contemporary Kenyan and East African art.
For instance, tomorrow (24 November), there will be two ‘Pop-Up’ events, one organized by Beta Arts at the Argenti Restaurant in Muthaiga Heights. The other will be at Polka Dot where a Body Art ‘Pop-Up’ show will be happening all day. Artists specializing in tattoos, body piercing and henna will be there, although they prefer you pre-book if you want your own ‘body art’.
Also at Polka Dot, the popular two-man exhibition featuring the art of Ismael Kateregga and Coster Ojwang will be ending. That means there are a few more hours when the public can go see lovely paintings highlighting the beauty of both Kenya and Uganda.
Kateregga is an older, more seasoned Ugandan artist than Coster a Kenyan. But both have an exquisite sense of beauty. Both blend aspects of impressionism with realism. And both could be called ‘plein air’ painters, artists who concentrate on painting out in the open air.
The other thing the two have in common is that their art reveals that they are both travelers, painters out to find some of the most beautiful spots in East Africa. Clearly Kateregga favors Lamu, Kampala and sites around Lake Victoria while Coster’s work is even more eclectic: he paints everything from Dunga beach, Suswa and Mai Mahiu to Ziwo and the National Archives in Nairobi.
Both create warm and welcoming works although Kateregga has one distinctive feature to his art. His larger paintings play with space, specifically blank space, leaving the viewer to imagine what lay behind the whiteness of the canvas. It’s clearly intentional on the part of the artist. In some cases, as in one Lamu scene, the blank space might be a sky or the sea. But otherwise, a work like ‘Lamu Main Street’ leaves one pondering and possibly appreciating the artist’s silent invitation to look more closely and see that the space isn’t blank at all.