That Kenya is teeming with artistic talent came out in the open on the night of Friday October 24 when the Affordable Art Show opened at the National Museums of Kenya. About 300 artists had their works on display at the three-day event organised by the Kenya Museum Society.
New entrants in the visual art world had their works displayed alongside those of established artists, all competing for the attention of buyers keen to acquire reasonably priced art. None of the pieces on display cost more than sh100,000; there were smaller pieces going for between sh6,000 and sh10,000.
Lydia Galavu curator of the Creativity Gallery at the National Museums explained that artistes were required to submit two big pieces and two small ones. The Safaricom and Java sponsored event attracted a full house, with a carnival-like atmosphere. The turn-up was clear testimony that local art has quite some following.
The pieces on display covered a wide spectrum of themes, from the mundane to sophisticated stuff like geopolitics. There are also those who tackled topical issues. David Karibu Karanja had reproduced the iconic picture of Abdul Hajji rescuing a terrified girl at the Westgate Mall armed with only a pistol. Karanja’s piece was selling for sh25,000.
Keen users of Kenya’s social media will by now have come across a picture of a rugged old man, bent almost double by age. This image is routinely tossed into the comments section of pages with wide following, for nuisance value. Here it went by the title Do you have a phone charger please? I wonder if this one got a buyer.
Then there were pieces that were in huge demand. Adrian Nduma’s semi abstract pieces Contempt and Strong were bought even before the event came to a close. Each were going for sh55,000. I am sure if he had more pieces they all would have gone. Next to Nduma’s pieces was Martin Muhoro’s The Wild Vision, which an observant collector remarked looked like it had been done by veteran Yoni Waite, to which Wangechi, the curator at The Nairobi Gallery agreed.
Speaking of impressionable artists Leonard Ngure’s Dagoretti Market and Kinyua Kimani’s Heroes would easily be confused with something that Joseph Bertiers did. Seeing my dilemma, Lydia said they both are students of Bertiers. Clearly, here is an artist keen to mentor the next generation of artists. Bertiers himself had two pieces, namely Cat Painting and Caught in the Act.
Caught in the Act depicted the clergyman who, a month ago was in the news having been caught with another man’s wife in a lodging. Trust Bertiers, whose work is full of sexual imagery, to pounce on such a topic. In the painting, the nearly naked woman sits on a bed with a cat between her legs – hint! Hint! while the ‘pastor’ had an unpeeled banana and a rungu somewhere between his legs. Does the unpeeled banana represent the fact that the union had not yet been ‘consummated’ by the time the two were caught?
There was another master/teacher team; that one of Eric Wamagata and his teacher Lexander Mbugua. Both had done miniature impressions of Lamu/Zanzibar doors. Interestingly, by the end of the event it is the pupil’s more elaborate ‘door’ that had attracted the attention of a buyer.
Michael Soi, persisted with his theme of sex tourism, an issue tourism authorities are keen to keep under wraps. Weighing my Options featured a Kenyan woman torn between two white men, while I love Diani had a randy white old man tagging at the strings of a bikini-clad African woman.
Culture CS Hassan Wario, who was the chief guest at the event revealed that his ministry has prepared a cabinet memorandum that would see the establishment of a National Art Gallery to give ‘Kenyan art a permanent home’. Also in the pipeline, said the CS, was a ‘vibrant Art Department’.
The Kenya Museum Society (KMS) is a volunteer organization founded in 1970 by a group who included Richard Leakey and Hilary N’gweno, to support the Nairobi Museum. The Affordable Art Show was an event of the Society
from the mid-1990’s when it was held in conjunction with the annual visual and performing Art
Festival. After a 7-year hiatus the Show was revived last year in response to artists’
requests and popular demand. The 2013 show raised more than 500,000 shillings which the Society donated for storage structures and the restoration of certain pieces of the Permanent Art Collection.