Artists association whose time has come


Beatrice Wanjiku an artist during the launch of the Association of Visual Artists and Collectives on June 20, 2021. PHOTO | POOL



  • Avac will serve as a collective voice when artists need to be heard by the government, galleries, and museums.

Kenyan artists have been feeling the need to work together for quite some time.

“We have lots of shared issues and experiences, and we know we can learn from one another,” says Michael Musyoka, a founding member of the Brush tu Artists Collective and the designated secretary of the new Association of Visual Artists and Collectives (Avac).

Avac was officially launched last Saturday at the Kuona Artists Collective.

The association aims to look after artists’ welfare, said Syowia Kyambi, the new board chairperson. Other board members include Dennis Muraguri, Cyrus Kabiru, Kevin Oduor, Sebawai Sio, and Andrew Ngurumi.

It will serve as a collective voice when artists need to be heard by the government, galleries, and museums, adds Mr Ngurumi, a lawyer who was called in to assist in registering Avac as a company.

“I’m not an artist, but I’ve been attending art exhibitions since I was a law student at Strathmore,” he says, adding he was even trained to be a tour guide at the Nairobi Gallery by Alan Donovan of African Heritage House.

He has also worked with artists who have had grievances with clients over payments for their art.

“We know how easily artists can be exploited and we wanted some protection,” said Mr Musyoka.

“Governments don’t listen to individuals’ demands, but they do listen to associations that speak on their stakeholders’ behalf,” Mr Ngurumi said, adding that “Avac will also be able to assist artists with copyright infringement, or non-payment or damages of artworks by overseas galleries where Kenyan artists have exhibited.”

This is a concern for Kenyan artists who are increasingly exhibiting their artwork abroad. For instance, four are currently exhibiting in Paris, while, another one has shown in Switzerland and Greece.

Members will also be assisted in obtaining royalties on the secondary sales of their art.

“We also are partnering with KCB to help artists obtain loans,” said Kyambi, who also sees Avac assisting artists to obtain insurance and health care benefits.

“It will be run by artists for artists,” says Musyoka who adds there will even be a monthly newsletter and a website.

One catalyst that incited artists to take seriously the need for a voice to demand transparency and accountability from the government, relates to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s appreciation of artists’ challenges during the pandemic.

“He gave Sh100 million to artists through the Ministry of Culture, but nobody quite knows how those funds were shared and among whom,” says Musyoka who, represented Brush tu, is one of Avac founders.

Others are Mr Muraguri representing Kuona Artists Collective and Mr Kabiru of Art Orotha. They are the ones who initially got together to agree on their mutual need for an association that could look after artists as well as art collectives’ welfare, especially regarding issues related to law and public policy.

“Artists don’t only want a voice that will be heard,” adds Muraguri. “We also want a seat at the table [among decision-and policy-makers].”

Kyambi expresses a similar sentiment.

“The visual arts are one of the most vibrant sectors in Kenya’s art scene, and it is time that is understood both nationally and globally.”