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Why not visit the art galleries for season’s gifts?

James Mbuthia’s art is also available at One
James Mbuthia’s art is also available at One Off as gift cards. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Shopping for holiday gifts is never easy, especially when you have that special someone who you’d like to impress. You want to get them something unique and tasteful, something they could never have seen anywhere else. But at the same time, you may not have a big budget to buy expensive items, so what do you do?

My advice would be to visit art galleries where you might be surprised to find not just a wide variety of artistic items, especially at galleries exhibiting recent works by many artists.

Prices

One will also find a wide range of prices that can run for as little as Sh400 or as much as several hundred thousand bob. Granted, the higher priced art tends to be found at One Off, but surprisingly, the least expensive art is also available there.

Banana Hill also has marvellous bargains, but it’s at One Off where one will find miniature sculptures by Kevin Kariuki for as little as Sh400 a piece.

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Kariuki shapes scrap metals into everything from wily warthogs, frogs and flamingos to flappy eared elephants and giraffes.
One artistic gift item at One Off that’s just a wee bit more expensive but probably more functional is Hezbon Omondi’s hand-painted animal tray which is priced from Sh3000 on up.

Omondi also creates life-sized guinea fowl flocks out of papier mache for Sh2800 a piece. But his trays, which are covered in everything from peacocks and chameleons to giraffes and guinea fowl, are perfect gifts for the person who may or may not appreciate visual art. That’s because the trays are functional and can be used like paintings to be hung on a wall, or simply used to carry glasses or bottles of soda or beer.

But probably the biggest bargain one can find at One Off are their Sh200 gift cards featuring artworks which have been exhibited at the gallery in the last two years.

Each work has been photographed in high resolution, so while you might prefer owning an original James Mbuthia or Anthony Okello painting of your own, your budget might not allow for that sort of purchase just now.

The same cost-effective art purchases can also be found at Banana Hill Gallery where there’s currently an ‘Xmas Soko’ running through to the first week of the new year

Original paintings

What’s especially interesting about the Banana Hill bargains is that one can simultaneously find a full-sized original painting on display at the same time the same artist will have painted miniatures in a similar style but at a much reduced price.

The best example of this is by the Ugandan artist Ron Ogwang who creates beautiful African iconic paintings in warm hues of ochre brown, blood red and black.

At the same time, he’s fashioned miniature paintings (3 by 3 inches), each one including one icon at a time costing Sh2000 each. On the same table where Ogwang’s tiny gems are stacked, one will find another stack of slightly larger paintings that look similar to the original Tinga Tinga - style of Tanzanian art.

For Sh3,000, one can have an ‘original’ painting by the nephew of the late Edward Tinga Tinga himself. Frankly, the nephew’s art reminds me of repetitive Kamba carvings or the wax batiks of Maasai morans and market scenes often described as ‘souvenir art’. In other words, they are visual clichés that tend to be churned out in bulk.

What’s impressive about Banana Hill is that its prices tend to be lower than those of most other galleries since Shine and Rahab Tani aim to attract a local clientele.

In fact, both Banana Hill and One Off have artists who are exhibiting both high range and inexpensive art for the public to buy.
For instance, at One Off, Anthony Okello has works from his Masquerade series that are priced at over Sh100,000, but he has also more moderately priced paintings (like Beyond the Stripes).

And at Banana Hill, artists like Ssali Yusuf and Rahab Njambi have created paintings that cover a broad price range, so that all types of art lovers can afford to own at least one work by them.

So while there’s still time to shop for those last minute gifts, the galleries are great places to go to and discover the variety and vast diversity of East African art.

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