Hellmuth Rossler had for the longest time only associated East African art with curios and tribal art until the early 1990s when he was exposed to contemporary art from the region.
Thereafter, Ruth Schaffner of Gallery Watatu convinced him and his wife, Erica Rossler-Musch, that there was so much of contemporary art in the region besides the usual sculptures, which most casual observers associate with East Africa, or that ‘real’ modern African art was only in West Africa.
Schaffner quickly quashed this misconception by exposing her fellow German to the art of resident Nairobi artists such as Zachariah Mbutha and Jak Katarikawe, Charles Sekano and Ancent Soi, some of the artists whose work is represented in the Rossler –Musch collection.
Since then, the Rosslers, through their travels and work around the region have collected art all over from Somaliland to Mozambique, Sudan to Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
They have had the advantage of living and working around the region for a variety of NGOs, such as the Save the Children Fund and with church-affiliated agencies concerned with development and rural health care issues as Public Health care workers.
They have collected the works of some well known artists in the region and have exhibited in Kenya including Sudanese artist Abusharia and Ugandan sculptor John OdochAmeny.
However, many remain unknown to the general public but recognized within the industry. Names like Dastani Simun Nyedi from Mozambique, Dar es Salaam’s Mzuguna, Ssengendo and Geoffrey Musaka from Kampala may be less known locally, but now that the Rosslers have opened their Red Hill Art Gallery, off Limuru Road, the public will have a to see this expansive assemblage of East African artistry.
Theirs must be among the most diverse and eclectic collections of regional art in metropolitan Nairobi. I make that claim with some reservation because I know there are quiet art collectors in Kenya who prefer their privacy to notoriety. But the Rosslers have chosen to share their cultural coffers with the public with the opening of the new gallery.
The Red Hill Art Gallery opens on Saturday with the late Geoffrey Musaka, of Uganda, paintings being the only ones on display. Musaka, whose works have been represented by the Tulifanya Gallery of Kampala for 15 years, is widely known outside of Africa.
He is less known in Kenya, despite his having exhibited at the National Museum of Kenya, in 1994, as part of a “Colours of Uganda” show.
Inaugurating the Red Hill Art Gallery with an artist like Musaka sets a high standard of East African art, which the Rosslers plan to retain. Musaka himself was brought up in the palace of the Buganda Kingdom in Bulange, Mengo where he had access to deep features of the Ganda culture.
Completing his fine art studies in India between 1978 and 1984, he specialized in painting, print-making and drawing, winning countless art competitions in the process.
Musaka died in 2009, still in his 40s. But thanks to the Rosslers’ collaboration with Maria Fischer of Tulifanya Gallery, local art lovers now have an opportunity to see the vigor and vibrancy of Musaka’s colorful style of painting.
Included in this show, which has been carefully hung and brilliantly lit in the spacious white-walled gallery the Rosslers recently built, are images of hauntingly beautiful Africans.
All featuring eyes that look penetratingly into space, Musaka was clearly a lover of women opting to paint young beautiful girls and old women as well.
His family portraits also come alive in skin tones that may be blue or green, brown or black, red ochre or bronze. And even his still life studies are striking, with bright and bold hues.
Maria Fischer has produced a catalogue of the artist’s major works. Wisely putting the text together while loving memories of the man are fresh, she has assembled images and biography as well as comments from international collectors of Musaka’s art.
At Fischer’s insistence, the paintings will run from Sh588,000$ (7,000) to Sh1.26 million ($15,000).
The exhibition is only open on weekends throughout this month or by appointment.
Call 0700108989 to make an appointment