Art for Change (AFC) is a gigantic mix of established and emerging Kenyan artists happening now at Sarit Centre’s new Expo Hall.
“We hope the next time we have an Art for Change, we can transform it into a biennale,” AFC curator William Ndwiga told the BD Life soon after the opening.
With nearly 90 artists in the show and almost 400 works on display, many by well-known local artists, Kenya’s capacity for being a regional art hub is obvious.
What enabled the exhibition to be held in such a prominent setting was the backing from several arts supporters.
They include the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) as well as the Asian Foundation, GA Insurance, Sarit Expo Centre itself, and the Little Gallery which is where Ndwiga comes from.
The Expo Centre is vast, but it was Ndwiga who created a kind of labyrinth effect by putting up panels around the hall which partitioned off convenient cubicles where several artists claimed for themselves.
Among the artists that occupied those mini-galleries within the larger centre space include everyone from Maggie Otieno, Sebastian Kiarie, Bertiers Mbatia and Coster Ojwang to Anne Mwiti, Patrick Kinuthia, John Kariuki and Peter Kenyanya to Alex Wainaina, Adam Masava and the Mukuru Artists Collective.
In addition, there were several artists whose works were scattered around the gallery such as Peter Elungat, Adrian Nduma, Clavers Odhiambo, Waweru Gichuhi, and Evans Yegon, all prominent artists in their own right.
Sarit Expo Centre’s role in supporting Art for Change was particularly important since they donated the hall and didn’t require payment for the days the artists occupied the space. And KCDF is the organisation that founded Art for Change.
“KCDF recognizes the role the visual arts can play in strengthening Kenya’s creative economy,” says Ndwiga. “They understand that art has the potential for liberating artists from poverty and unemployment, which means the arts have a central role in community development,” he adds.
The Asian Foundation works closely with Sarit and they also share that avant guard perspective, appreciating how the arts can be involved in community development.
And Ndwiga, through his Little Gallery has been curating exhibitions of local artists for more than a decade, so he knows many of the rising stars in the world of visual art.
At the same time, he has the flexibility and experience to know how to create an exhibition from scratch.
Plus, Ndwiga knows how to call upon artists who may have worked in their studios but have no plans to exhibit them. For instance, I don’t know how soon we would have seen Peter Elungat’s painting entitled ‘new born’ which reveals new ways that we see Elungat using colour and form as well as his iconic imagery of beautiful women.
And we haven’t seen many works by Waweru Gichuhi recently so it was good to see some of his recent work in the show.
Plus artists like John Kariuki have now gone beyond having the potential to branch out into new designs that are more expansive and original.
Bertiers has an entire corner to himself, which is great since one always needs more time ‘reading’ his paintings since he invariably assembles world leaders at the moment he begins on a work so you can know what year that was by seeing the leaders who show up in his art.
He is such a good draftsman that his leaders are easily recognised.
You may see Hilary Clinton on a canvas with Angela Merkel, Barak Obama, Vladimir Putin, and even Boris Johnson.
He is an avid reader of newspapers so he keeps up on international news. He can also throw in local politicians like Raila, Moi, and Martha Karua.
I don’t think I have seen a Dr Ruto as yet in his art. But then again, Bertiers has a painting of a widow in this show, one of his newer works. So, one can never know where this gifted artist will go with his art.
Bertiers’ matatu sculptures are also there in the exhibition which I know will only accrue in value over time. They reflect the period when matatus could recklessly abide by the adage ‘always room for one more’ where passengers exceed any lawful range of PVS’s capacity.
But his welded works are still reflective of the artist’s rare sense of humour. He is an artist who can laugh at himself as well as at his fellow Kenyans for all their quirky ways of being and doing.