Friends of the Arts’ (Fota) annual art exhibition at the International School of Kenya (ISK) in Nairobi has been a favourite event for Kenyan artists who appreciate the chance to show their works in a space in which it is not only well hung; it is also where at least half of the works are sure to sell.
At Fota, organisers normally advise the artists to keep their prices at a minimum. However this year, the prices set by the artists rose significantly and so did the quality of the work.
There were several positive changes in this year’s exhibition, both in terms of its form and content. For one, the central curator of the show, Alina Ferrand is a professional artist herself so she set the bar high for artworks being included in this year’s display.
“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.
Alina also had help from a visiting volunteer designer, Christopher Adam, who gave the exhibition a 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.
Prices ran from Sh20,000 up to over Sh40,000 and fewer than half the paintings and sculptures were sold this year. Fota made Sh2.1 million.
“Seventy-five per cent 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 carved before painting them all black.
After that she assembled the wood with hinges allowing 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.
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 Kenya, but also from Ethiopia, South Sudan, Tanzanian and Uganda.
The inclusion of this wider range of artists added fresh flavour 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.
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.
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 multicoloured skin.
Nonetheless, the exhibition went well and artists whose works sold were pleased they got paid without delay.