Friday, 29 November 2019


                                                                        DRISHNI RAJA with her flexible sculpture

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted November 29, 2019)

Friends of the Arts’ (FOTA) annual art exhibition at the International School of Kenya (ISK) has always been a favorite event for Kenyan artists who appreciate the chance to show their art in a space in which it is not only well hung; it is also a space where at least half of the exhibited works are sure to sell.
                                          The Wall at ISK'S FOTA with 2019 curator/coordinator Alina Ferrand

Sales are practically promised as the FOTA organizers normally advise the artists to keep their prices at a minimum. But this year, inflation clearly hit the FOTA show as the prices set by the artists rose significantly, but so did the quality of the work.
There were several positive changes in this year’s exhibition, both in terms of its form and its content. For one, the central curator of the show, Alina Ferrand is a professional artist herself so she set the bar quite high for artworks being included in this year’s display.
                                                                     Knife sharpener by Wilson Matunda

“We received over 400 artworks, but we selected just 216 paintings [including several sculptures] to exhibit,” says Alina who worked with a team of parents who have children attending ISK.
                                                                 Muigai Moses' Escorting the Wedding Party

Alina also had help from a visiting volunteer designer, Christopher Adam, who gave the exhibition a whole new look with his hanging a number of white cotton panels from the ceiling to the floor. In theory this should have allowed for more artworks to be shown. However, this year, there were a number of paintings that were quite large, so the number of works shown this year was comparable to years past.
                                                                                                Rose Ahoro

The one wall that has become a tradition at FOTA is another space that changed significantly this year. It is still a wall in which artists create a smaller-sized painting which they sell for a relatively minimal price. In the past few years, it hasn’t been more than Sh10,000, which was the rule for as long as I can recall.
But this year, the artists somehow skirted that ‘tradition’. Practically nothing on that geometrically-designed display sold for Sh10k. Instead, prices ran from Sh20,000 up to Sh40,000 and above.
                                                                            Akot Solip from South Sudan

It may be said that it is good for the artists to decide not to stick strictly with the past precedent. But perhaps they ‘paid the price’ since fewer than half the paintings and sculptures were sold this year. Like the affordable art show, artworks mostly went for less than Sh100,000 but only 90 of them sold. FOTA still made Sh2.1 million so that wasn’t too bad.
                                                                                       Victor Binge

“Seventy-five percent of the sales will go back to the artists and the rest is for FOTA to decide which project proposal(s) will receive their donation from this year’s exhibition,” Alina says.
One of the most stunning pieces in the exhibition was by Darshna Raja from her ‘Transience’ series. This graduate of the Royal College of Art in London had assembled a fascinatingly flexible sculpture which hung high above the rest of the show. Darshna says she constructed the piece from wooden planks, each of which she had carefully carved before painting them all black. 
                                                                               Happy Robert of Tanzania

After that she assembled the wood with hinges in such a way that allowed every slender piece to rotate and bend, ensuring absolute flexibility of the sculpture. “The work can fit in almost anywhere since it’s collapse-able,” says Darshna as she demonstrates various forms her artwork could take.
                                                                                     Evans Ngure's zipper earrings

Another attractive feature which was new this year was Chris Adam’s dazzling slide and light show that displayed every name of the 100 artists whose works were exhibited in the show. This year FOTA invited artists to submit their works from not only Kenyans, but also from Ethiopians, South Sudanese, Tanzanians and Ugandans. The inclusion of this wider range of artists added fresh flavor to the blend of Kenyan artists, many of whom have participated in the FOTA show before, such as Patrick Kinuthia, Meshack Oiro, Adrian Nduma, Rose Ahoro, Kepha Mosoti, Evans Ngure and Samuel Njuguna among many others. Gakunju Kaigwa’s sculpture was also on hand, adding value to the exhibition.
                                                                                        Gakunju Kaigwa

Among the newcomers whose works hadn’t been seen in FOTA shows before were Aisha Mwananna Mmaka, Sebastian Mnindo, Happy Robert and Usha Harish among others.
                                                                            Tanzanian artist Sebastian Mnjindo

Some FOTA volunteers took note that there seemed to be a bit of repetition among topical themes. “There seemed to be an a lot of roosters this year,” Alina noted wryly. Others observed there were quite a few beautiful women with multi-colored skin.
Nonetheless, the exhibition went well and artists whose works sold were pleased they got paid without delay.
                                                                                           Ronnie Ogwang

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