Walking into Polka Dot Gallery in Nairobi two days before the opening of Coster Ojwang’ and Arnold Jaoko’s exhibition, entitled ‘Tales of Strokes’, the timing could not have been better.
To the untutored eye, one might have seen confusion as the gallery’s new manager, David Gathumbi was in the process of choosing which paintings to put where. That meant everything was in flux. Some works were coming down, while others going up.
But for someone wanting to see artworks by not just two but several exceptional young Kenyan artists, it was rare and wonderful occasion.
That is because quite a few so-called ‘up-and-coming’ local artists have discovered Lara Ray, Polka Dot’s chief-curator, is especially receptive to ‘new blood’.
She has given a number of them their first chance to exhibit in a public space where they cannot just show off their art but sell it as well.
For the prospective investor in East African art, this means they need to keep a periodic eye on Polka Dot since one can never know what new gems you might find and at an affordable price.
For instance, Coster has not been exhibiting in the Nairobi art world for all that long.
But he is already well established and recognised for his lovely landscapes and labour-filled cityscapes.
He is also exhibited at Polka Dot before. But this time he has brought Arnold Jaoko, his former classmate from Mwangaza Art Centre in Kisumu to share the gallery walls at Polka Dot from last Sunday through May 5.
Jaoko has not exhibited in Nairobi before, but he has a lovely auburn-toned colour palette and his figurative subject matter is also well-executed. But Jaoko is just one of a number of ‘newbies’ who you’ll find at Polka Dot.
There is a printmaker named Robert Yigo whose miniature prints are attractively coloured and filled with rural imagery reminiscent of Rosemary Karuga’s, only hers are in collage and his are print and mixed media.
Several artists from Mukuru Art Club have also brought their works to Polka Dot. But Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Kimau, Lloyd Weche and others from the Club did not just bring their art to be placed on racks for visitors to thumb through. Lara actually put their art online at the gallery’s website, offering a special ‘Mukuru Art Club Art Sale’.
“Lara has already sold five of our paintings online,” says Adam Masava, founder of the club who adds that online sales will go towards construction of a new artists studio.
But then, it isn’t just inside and online that Polka Dot is exposing a lot of unsung artists to the light of day. Even outside on easel and front wall, one could see artworks that would be gone by Sunday’s showcase of Coster and Jaoko’s paintings.
Gone could be Elias Mong’ora’s Untitled urban scene, one of Sarah Sungi’s black and white silhouettes and the halo-ed beauty by Philip Kere who we hear normally exhibits at The Tamarind.
According to Gathumbi, Mong’ora’s paintings rarely stay at the gallery for long. The Brush tu-based artist’s works tend to go quickly, he says, pointing to just two that remain for the time being.
But they are about to come down, as are paintings remaining from a recent solo exhibition by Nigerian artist, Akinyemi Ajibade.
Ajibade has been in Kenya just less than two years, but as he loves teaching. He has settled in at GEMS Cambridge School where he teaches art.