Nairobi’s art scene has veritably exploded with unprecedented activity. This past week alone, art exhibitions, installations and competitions have been ongoing all the way from the Village Market, One Off, Banana Hill and Red Hill Art Galleries to Alliance Francaise, Nairobi National Museum and the new Shifteye Gallery where no less than three exhibition openings were held within a little more than a week.
Meanwhile, artists in search of alternative spaces to showcase their artworks ventured outside the conventional places this past week.
Kuona Trust has spearheaded this movement beyond traditional venues which are sometimes perceived as ‘elitist’; spaces where the vast majority of Kenyans rarely set foot into.
Public art is the genre that increasingly is occupying local artists whose aims are not just to beautify public spaces but also to give local Kenyans a chance to appreciate their art.
Kenyans have already seen public art in the shape of life-size sculptures of great men like Dedan Kimathi, Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta and Dr. Louis Leakey.
But it took Wambui Kamiru to organise more than a dozen local artists to create works which were last week installed at Pumwani Maternity Hospital.
They consisted primarily of paintings, but glass artist Tonney Mugo created a sunny stained glass window especially for Pumwani while Ken Oduor constructed a bench that has already been admired by the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Culture and the Arts, Dr Mohammed Wario, who was one of the guest speakers at the official handover of art (all of which was donated) by 13 local artists to the hospital.
One day later, Kuona’s director Sylvia Gichia was officially opening yet another public art project outside the Kenya Cultural Centre. This one consisted of graffiti art painted on the mabati (corrugated iron sheets) erected by Chinese workers constructing new Nairobi University structures on the other side of KCC.
The graffiti murals were painted by one of Kenya’s best known graffiti artists, Uhuru B together with a team of young Kenyans that Uhuru has trained.
Yet KCC wasn’t the only venue where the work of aspiring visual artists was being exhibited last week. ‘Eye See Africa ’, a photographic exhibition committed to revealing positive images of the region, opened at Shifteye Gallery last Friday for one night only.
Sponsored and organised by Nikon cameras, the exhibition showcased images shot by more than two dozen Kenyan photographers, who’ve been trained by the South African Nikon man, Moeketsi Moticoe at the new Museum of Contemporary Art at Rahimtulla library on Mfangano street, Nairobi.
The three ‘most promising’ photographers were given brand new Nikon cameras that night by Moeketsi. The other venue that handed out awards to winning artists last week was Village Market which hosted the GoDown-organised Manjano annual Nairobi County Art competition and exhibition.
Out of the 175 artworks submitted to GoDown, only six won: three in the student category, three in the seasoned artists’ one.
Winning first prize of Sh300,000 in the seasoned artist category was Kennedy Munala for his sculpture Ombisi, Manyanga wa Embakasi, and winning Sh50,000 and first prize in the students category was Elsardt Kigen for his painting ‘Nai Ni Nani’.
Among solo artist’s exhibitions one saw Beatrice Wanjiku’s art opening at OneOff Gallery, Geraldine Robarts’ colourful paintings at Nairobi National Museum and Tabitha wa Thuku’s opening just days before at Shifteye.
Thereafter, an exhibition of mixed media paintings by the Moroccan artist Adil Roufi also opened at Shifteye, which is rapidly becoming the gallery of choice for many local artists.
Group shows were also plentiful, not only at Village Market and Pumwani, but also at Banana Hill Art Gallery, Esther Kahuti and Carol Mbirua were showing their lovely work.
At Red Hill Gallery, the dynamic artistic duo of Salah Elmur and Soad Elradosa was getting set to close to make room for the portraits of Dale Webster which opens this coming Sunday.
Finally, Alliance Francaise featured the three-man show, entitled Sex in the City. All three artists, Michael Soi, Thom Ogonga and John Kamicha had done ‘research’ in advance of their expo.
Both Soi and Ogonga presented new paintings based on spending ‘happy hours’ in local bars where they saw behaviour that they reveal in their art.
But the most controversial work in their AF show was by John Kamicha whose mixed medial collage work was deemed ‘blasphemous’ by some Christians who insisted the ‘worst’ one be taken down.
AF’s Harsita conferred with Kamicha who agreed to remove the work in question.
Whether AF should have agreed to censor Kamicha’s art is questionable, but the event drew new audiences to last week’s opening, which ultimately may be a good thing.