Friends of Nairobi National Park (FONNaP) held a day-long art exhibition last Friday at Spinners Web in Kitisuru, Nairobi.
The light-filled display preceded the art exhibition and auction held the following Saturday night at Muthaiga Club where funds were raised in aid of the Friends’ initiatives to promote and preserve the National Park.
“There’s nowhere else in the world where you can drive down the road and see ostriches, zebra, and elephants walking by except in Nairobi,” John Butler Jr, an enthusiastic volunteer with FONNaP, tells the BDLife.
The two-tier exhibition was curated by a long-time member of the group, Philippa Crosland-Taylor, and William Ndwiga of The Little Art Gallery.
It was two-tiered in the sense that Friday’s exhibition was held in two separate yet adjoining rooms, one with the artworks for show and immediate sale, the other exclusively filled with works that could be seen but not bought until the following day when the bidding opened up and Philippa served as the evening’s auctioneer.
She was a wise choice for the part since, despite her never having auctioneered before, she had previously attended a multitude of auctions, both here and abroad.
What’s more, she is also devoted to both the park and fine art, so she had the enthusiasm required to cajole friends and their guests to make their bids for this worthy cause.
It worked in most cases, but even where it did not, she made the evening an effervescent affair.
It was enhanced by a musical interlude that featured Eddie Grey on guitar and the internationally acclaimed percussionist Sven Kacirek.
But the big issue was the auction.
The art that had been reserved the day before at Spinners Web was now on display on the grass on easels outside the Ballroom where a dozen tables were set for guests to have dinner before the auction began.
The only thing strange about the choices of artworks was that most of the artists were represented in both exhibitions (since there were effectively two art shows).
And on Friday especially, one could see the contrast between the two.
Both were beautiful, featuring familiar painters like Patrick Kinuthia, Ann Mwiti, El Tayeb Dawelbeit, and Adrian Nduma. There were others included exclusively in the auction art room at Spinners Web, and they included a wonderful painting by Peter Elungat which featured on the catalogue cover and was sought after by many of the National Park friends but not at that price.
I believe the starting bid was Sh800,000, which was an unlikely number to hear on that night. There were other pieces, like Ahmed Abushariaa’s lovely ‘Forest and Desert’ at Sh1.3 million which were beautiful but pricier than what would be given up by the friends that night.
And an impressive piece like Bertiers Mbatia’s was also admired by many but it too was not exactly affordable at Sh400,000, except by collectors and connoisseurs who understand his art is a precious investment easily worth that amount since it will only accrue in value over time.
So, works like these were beautiful viewing, but not exactly useful to the fundraising project.
What made more sense were exquisite works like Sophie Walboeffe’s Giraffe at Sh40,000 minimum, Bettina Roedling’s view of ‘Nairobi National Park’ at Sh25,000, and even Steve Ndungu Lance’s Ngalawa at Lowtide for Sh15,000 (which had been donated by the artists to FONNaP).
Meanwhile, the art that was only on display the day before the auction had several works that I wished had been in the auction. Most of my preferences were brighter and sunnier, such as Coster Ojwang’s; 'The Herd', Adrian Nduma’s 'Diani Sunrise', Haji Chilonga’s 'Unit', and even Anne Mwiti’s 'Makutano' which is now one of my favourite works by the Kenyatta University lecturer in Fine Art.
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But in the end, it didn’t matter which room or which method of sales took place.
Both exhibitions which I found at Spinners Web were sold in aid of this important organisation, one aimed at preserving and protecting one of Kenya’s most precious international assets, which makes Nairobi unique.
FONNaP has yet to square its accounts even though most expenses have already been covered, and many of the artists had donated their work. But others did not. So those payments are still being sorted out.
Nonetheless, the array of eclectic East African artists on display on both days was exceptional. They came from Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as from Belgium and the UK.
Other artists who were featured in the exhibition included Adam Masava, Alex Wainaina, Ameer Yousif, Coster Ojwang, Derrick Munene, Heruy Aregawi, Kivutha Mbuno, Happy Roberts, Hussein Halfawi, Jjuuko Hoods, Nannette Sole, Samuel Njuguna Njoroge, Victor Nderitu, Xavier Verhoest, and Yassir Ali.