William Ndwiga was not born an art lover, more a business man. Over the year he has acquired and cultivated a taste. He is now one of the biggest and considered the best Kenyan promoters of contemporary African art.
He mostly learnt when working at the RaMoMa Museum for two of the best art curators, as well as artists, Mary Collis and One off Gallery CEO Carol Lees. Ramoma is set to reopen on Mfangano Street in the Rahimtullah Library.
He also learned a great deal on how to apply his business skills to the promotion and sales of contemporary African art working with Africancolours.com boss Andrew Njoroge.
But it was his own initiative that led him to launch The Little Art Gallery in late 2010.
He had come to know most of the leading local artists and understand the challenges they faced. He set up a ‘mobile art gallery’ featuring a cross section of East African painters and sculptors in December 2010.
Through networking and appealing to local patrons, he set up shop over weekends in up-market estates like Runda and Rosyln in the gardens of friends who he encouraged to invite friends to come see the art and meet the artists.
His goal was ideally to enhance people’s understanding of Kenyan art and broaden the support base of local collectors, connoisseurs and hopefully even corporates.
Ndwiga’s strategy has worked quite well, so well in fact, that he has finally established a permanent home for The Little Art Gallery in Kisumu, in Mega-City, one of the most popular shopping malls in the lake-side town.
Kisumu based artists
The official launch of The Little Art Gallery was last weekend. The venue itself was one long spacious showcase filled with well-hung paintings by Nairobi-based artists, such as Michael Soi, Alex Mbevo, Dennis Muraguri, Yassir Ali and Adil Roufi as well as a number of Kisumu artists such as Eric Ayoti, Edward Orato and Willis Otieno.
Many of the Kisumu-based artists attended the gallery opening, including several students and graduates of the Mwangaza Art School, which was started in 1985 by a Dutch priest named Father Hans Burgman, 80, and an American nun, Sister Janet Muellen. Father Hans was at hand to see the opening of the gallery along with the school’s principal Dan Ouma.
Local businessmen also came out to support Ndwiga and the gallery including the owner of the popular Kiboko Bay Resort, Nirmal Darbar, who actually hosted the Little Gallery’s first Kisumu show and has since become one of the town’s leading patrons of Kenyan art, showcasing works of regional artists such as Chilonga Haji, Patrick Kinuthia and Yassir Ali at his picturesque lake-side resort.
Among the other local corporates who came to the opening was C.S. Hayer, the Chairman of the Sikh community of Kisumu.
Mr Hayer is the one whom, on behalf of his Sikh temple’s centennial celebrations, had commissioned the lake-based sculptor Luke Oshotto Ondula to create the Peace Monument that right-wing religious fanatics claimed was associated with devil worship which had resulted in a raucous mob destroying the monument.
Both the sculptor and his son Cleophas, also an artist, were present for the launch.
But before the monument, including the semi-abstract sculpture, which is shaped like someone seated and bowing in prayer, accompanied by two regal cement lions, are returned to the roundabout just near Hayer’s Sikh temple, Ondula says he must first complete his statue of the late Oginga Odinga.
“That way, I hope to help local people understand the nature of monuments, which are meant to honor and commemorate a specific person, like Odinga, or place, like the Sikh temple,” said the man who actually created the sculpture of Tom Mboya in the heart of Nairobi’s CBD, across the street from both the Hilton and the Ambassador hotels.
Ndwiga says he will continue showcasing Kenyan and East African artists in and around Nairobi as the Little Art Gallery.
In so doing, he hopes to continue growing the numbers of Kenyans who are gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of regional art.