Art

Elite club features Kenyan art

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‘Buffalo’ a painting by Ron Enoch Luke at Karen Country Club in Nairobi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • Karen Country Club does not have a reputation for being an active, well-curated art gallery.
  • But thanks to Tom Siambey, almost all the club’s walls are covered in works of Kenyan artists.
  • That includes walls in the foyer, conference rooms, staff offices, and corridors leading to a dining room, ladies loo, and spacious living room where a series of paintings by Edwin Jongo are part of the club’s permanent collection.

Karen Country Club does not have a reputation for being an active, well-curated art gallery. But thanks to Tom Siambey, almost all the club’s walls are covered in works of Kenyan artists.

That includes walls in the foyer, conference rooms, staff offices, and corridors leading to a dining room, ladies loo, and spacious living room where a series of paintings by Edwin Jongo are part of the club’s permanent collection.

“We showed one painting by Edwin that club members liked a lot. So they asked him to bring two more pieces based on the same theme,” Siambey tells BDLife.

“After that, the club decided to buy all three paintings since they mirror what goes on in the members’ room,” he adds.

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Edwin Jongo’s paintings at Karen Club, January 14, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

The first one, which hangs over a fireplace, has several men casually seated with drinks to go round. The second is of a woman sitting alone reading a newspaper (Business Daily), and the third portrays two young boys playing checkers as they pass the time together.

But Jongo is just one of the 15 Kenyan artists whose works have been on display since early December at Karen Club. Selected and hung by Siambey, who takes care not to call himself a curator, the works are an eclectic mix of paintings, collage, and photographs. Many of the works are painted in acrylics on canvas, although there is lots of mixed media work on display, including Jongo’s artworks.

What is most distinctive about Siambey’s selection of works is its diversity. Some of the pieces are by better-known Kenyan artists like Simon Muriithi, Mary Ogembo, Ron Enoch Luke, Kamau Kariuki, Tom Mboya, and Coster Ojwang’.

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Derek Munene’s Boy with cap, at Karen Club, January 14, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Others are by artists who are not nearly as known, but who Siambey has seen and appreciated their artistry.

“I give artists who haven’t had so many opportunities to show their art before, a chance to exhibit,” says Siambey.

“Before that, I was often exhibiting Kenyan artists’ works at Village Market,” he recalls.

Among the most notable names he curated back then are Peter Ngugi and Anthony Okello, both of whom are now affiliated exclusively with One Off Gallery.

He exhibited works by the acclaimed Ugandan artist, the late Jak Katarikawe, and he even exhibited the art of Lydia Galavu before she became the lead curator at Nairobi National Museum.

Since 2016, he has focused all of his energies on bringing art to Karen Club where he has found a surprisingly receptive audience of mainly Kenyan art lovers.

For instance, a few moments after I had walked past Ron Luke’s super-realistic portrait of a wildebeest looking you straight in the eye, it was bought by someone who Siambey calls one of his good clients.

This sort of spur-of-the-moment sale is not uncommon at the Club. It could be one reason why quite a few of the artists on display reached out to Siambey to ask if their art could be featured at the club.

In the past, it was he, the intrepid art connoisseur, who would go trekking to artists’ studios to find new works to show.

Today, he still does that but he also gets a lot more calls from especially young artists, asking if he can exhibit their art. Among the artists whose works we have not seen before are Frank Langi who came straight to Nairobi from Kisumu’s Mwangaza Art Institute, Glen Ochira who is a second-year Design student at the University of Nairobi, Anthony Chege whose big monochrome portrait of wildebeest during the annual Migration is another super-realistic eye-catching piece, and Shadrack Musyoka who came recently from Nakuru and quickly shared his art with Siambey.

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Isaac Karim Wabo’s ‘Black Mona Lisa’ painting at Karen Country Club. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

There are also several new women artists whose art got into this show.

Fridah Ijai is from Kenyatta University, Catherine Mavalya teaches at Alliance High School, Safiyah Shah is studying to be a medical doctor, and Catherine Mwangi’s ‘Faces’ greet you first upon entry into Siambey’s selective world of Kenyan contemporary art.

There is one painting in the exhibition by a non-Kenyan. Isaac Karim Wabo is a Ugandan. But Siambey could not resist putting Wabo’s portrait of a beautiful young woman into the show.

She could easily be described as an African ‘Mona Lisa’ with her enigmatic smile, penetrating eyes, and the chiaroscuro lighting around her face.