Serena Hotel is not an art gallery, despite having attractive West African sculptures scattered around the lobby area and foyer.
But it was transformed into one this past week when the Rotarians organized a dazzling display of East African art in the lobby with the goal of raising funds for their latest public health campaign to ‘end polio for good.’
“Once you walk in Serena’s front door, you immediately see several striking paintings,” says Huma Kaseu, one of the newest Rotary volunteers who helped set up the ‘Imagine Rotary Art Exhibition for its opening last Sunday afternoon.
“There’s the stunning ‘Ethiopian Woman’ by Patrick Kinuthia, the colourful ‘Pickpocket’ by Samuel Njuguna, Kennedy Kinyua’s 'City Life', and in soldered wires Alex Wainaina’s 'Butterflies',” Huma adds.
But that was just the beginning of the unusual and eclectic art exhibition that included both renowned artists (like Elungat and Abushariaa) and unknown youth (like Ronald Oketch from Mathare and Vincent Kimeu from Mukuru Art Club), all of whom agreed to contribute to a display aimed at raising funds to finish polio through the sale of fine art.
“Polio eradication has been a Rotary priority since the 1980s,” Rotary Director-General Azeb Asrat told BDLife at the exhibition opening. “But pockets of it still exist in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now we hear about its arrival in Africa in countries like Mozambique and Malawi, so there is serious work required to shut it down,” she added.
The hotel had agreed to assist the Rotarians. But as they had zero wall space available, it was up to Rotarians to find easels for the art to stand on. Thankfully, the Little Gallery’s William Ndwiga was able to provide 31 easels, all of which were filled with works by artists from Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
“After securing the venue, our next big challenge was finding first class artists willing to contribute paintings to the cause of eliminating polio through the sale of art,” said Ritesh Barot, a financial analyst, and past president of the Rotary Club of Nairobi as well as an artist himself.
Turns out, artists and several gallerists were more than willing to participate so that when the exhibition finally opened, nearly half the easels were ‘double-booked’, with one painting atop another.
That worked well for Ron Lukes, the artist whose two wildlife portraits were the ones that attracted Kenya’s new Cabinet Secretary for Youth, Sports, and the Arts, Ababu Namwamba as he made a grand tour of the make-shift gallery.
Mr Namwamba booked Lukes’ Giraffe portrait right there on the spot. He acknowledged that practically all the government offices he visits have bare walls, all of which need to be filled with fine art such as what he was seeing in the Rotary exhibition.
The other dignitary who attended the opening was the Barbados Ambassador to Kenya Alex MacDonald. He and his wife were especially attracted by a colorful painting by Ronald Oketch of people shopping in the open air at mitumba street venders’ sites.
Based in Mathare, Ronald studied art on YouTube, and like many young artists has seen creativity as a means of breaking out of poverty and moving on with his life.
The exhibition itself is truly an eclectic mix that marks the first time the Rotarians worked with artists to raise funds for their diverse campaigns to do everything from clean the Nairobi River and build libraries and toilets in primary and secondary schools.
They also run eye camps providing free cataract surgery and dig bore holes in parched regions like northern Kenya.
On Saturday night, Serena will take on its more traditional role. It will host the Rotary Foundation fundraiser dinner and also auction off several paintings from the exhibition.
Most importantly, the one Ms Azeb hopes will attract the most interest is an artwork signed by the Rotary International President Jennifer Jones on behalf of the artist, her brother Darren.
Entitled ‘Imagine your Dream’, the abstract work is a mixed media piece in which the American artist has blended coloured pigment, sand, and shredded paper to create a highly textured work which was beautifully framed locally.