The third edition of the Kenya Arts Diary 2013 came out into bookstores last week and fits the bill for being as much a visual arts catalogue as a full year calendar that gives one space to keep track of appointments, reminders, to-do lists and personal contacts.
In the beginning, the project leader, Kitengela Glass artist Nani Croze, struggled to ignite interest in the idea of creating the first Kenyan calendar-cum-art catalogue.
When she finally assembled a small group of volunteers who loved local art as much as she did, the idea of finding and photographing art work by a minimum of 52 contemporary Kenyan artists still seemed daunting.
But it worked and when the first Kenyan Arts Diary 2011 came out, designed by Peta Meyer, printed by Kul Bhakoo and featuring art work by Beatrice Wanjiku on the front cover, the fate of the Arts Diary was sealed.
The first batch sold out gradually as the public got wind of the diary’s existence.
But as the first diary featured many of Kenya’s best known artists, including Patrick Mukabi, Peterson Kamwathi, Gakunju Kaigwa, Mary Ogembo and Jak Katarikawe, there was scepticism within some circles that the volunteers wouldn’t find another 60 local artists as fine as that first batch.
Croze and company, however, managed to find a fine but different crop of local artists to feature in the 2012 diary.
“In some ways, it was easier to get artists involved in the second diary since they had seen the quality of the first one,” said Croze.
“By not repeating any of the 2011 artists, we wanted to prove that the art scene in Kenya is vibrant, dynamic, and expanding all the time,” said Dr Eric Krystal, a volunteer.
However, there were even more sceptics about keeping up the quality in the third diary.
But again, the doubters have been overruled due to the reality of first, the richness of the local art scene and second the rigorous commitment of Croze’s crew to finding fresh, unsung artists and keeping up artistic standards as well.
Both front and back covers of the latest feature striking images of contemporary Kenyan art, the details of which are contained within.
Designed again by Peta Meyer, colourful tuk tuks by the Nyanza-based artist Edward Orato grace the front while paintings by Rosemary Ahono, Remy Musindi, Dale Webster and Sidney Mang’ong’o stand side by side with Gor Soudan’s sculptures on the back.
What makes the diary unique is that it’s not just a colourful calendar; it’s more like a quality reference book that documents the current Kenyan art scene, complete with contemporary artists’ bios, mug shots and artworks.
“Being able to associate a name, face and work of art is something people seem to really like about the diary,” said Donna Pido, whose jewellery was featured in last year’s diary and whose husband Odoch Pido’s photography is in this year.
“It’s true that some of the artists are less known than those featured last year, but that’s one reason the diary exists - to expose less visible local artists and draw public attention to their art,” said Judy Ogana, manager of the GoDown Art Centre where Croze and company often met to decide who ultimately would be in the 2013 diary.
In the end, there was no shortage of artwork to choose from, but the selection process wasn’t easy, noted Croze.
“One reason the diary looks so good this year,” observed designer Peta Meyer, “is because we were able to enlist first class photographers like Sylvia Gichia, Lin Xi, Aernout Zevenbergen who all volunteered their services.”
There are other details that make the diary useful, such as a listing of all the art centres in Kenya and extra blank pages at the back for miscellaneous notes.
The diary is available at all the leading galleries and art centres in Nairobi. One can also order it via email at KenyaArtsDiary@gmail.com.