Paa ya Paa Art Centre has been hosting African and international artists ever since it opened back in 1965. The centre has been organising workshops and artist residencies as well as mounting exhibitions for them.
In the course of all those years, many artists have left behind works which they either meant for the gallery to keep. Or they simply left town before they could give a second thought to collecting their art.
“We’ve often invited artists to come collect their work,” says Phillda Njau, co-curator at Paa ya Paa with her spouse, the acclaimed East African artist Elimo Njau, who’s also one of the co-founders of the centre.
“When they haven’t come to pick their art, we’ve kept it in storage. But we recently had help to sort and catalogue those works from several student interns,” Phillda adds.
That is how Paa ya Paa is now prepared to hold its first silent auction, filled with all the paintings left behind over the decades.
“We haven’t set a deadline date for the silent auction as yet, but we’ve just put up all the artworks on our Facebook page for people to see,” says Phillda.
The bidding process has already begun and the actual results of the auction will be announced at Paa ya Paa, sometime in July. At that time, the public will be invited to have one last chance to bid on their favourite artwork, after which people will be able to take their winning bids home.
“The artists may also come and claim their share of the sale of their art,” adds Phillda who says she welcomes the artists back to Paa ya Paa.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the auction is that much of the art is by artists who were just starting out in their careers when they arrived at Paa ya Paa.
Some came and stayed at the centre for several weeks, like a number of Sudanese artists. Others were students who came to display their works during feted events like the Daniel Pearl Day, which the centre celebrated with the American Embassy to remember the fallen journalist who died in Karachi, Pakistan.
Either way, it meant that in many instances, the artists’ styles as well as their skills were still incipient, in the process of becoming. In other cases, artists came through Paa ya Paa already having a keen sense of aesthetic direction and determination to become professional painters as quickly as possible.
One such artist is a young Sudanese artist named Abusharia Ahmed. Now a painter whose works are exhibited all over the world and sell for hundreds of thousands of shillings, Phillda has vivid memories of the young man.
“He came to us carrying gunny sacks and stayed in one of the rooms we had built for visiting artists like him,” she recalls.
“He started selling his works for maybe Sh15,000. But gradually, we began getting visitors from various embassies who were specifically coming to see his art. Now he’s told me his smallest painting can’t sell for less than Sh100,000,” she says.
Abusharia’s painting may be the most valuable piece in the auction. But there are others by artists who are now well known in the Nairobi art world.
They include painters like Yassir Ali, Joseph 'Weche’ Waweru, Allan Githuka, Evans Maina Ngure, Salah Ammar, Caroline Mbirua, Nuru Bahati, Eric Manya, Esther Mukuhi, George Ngaruya and Lionel Njuguna.
Even the graffiti artist, Uhuru Brown has paintings in the PYP gallery. So does the former Principal at Buru Buru Institute of Fine Art, Rix Butama. So there are any number of gems to be had.
There are also works by a whole range of less known artists, such as Adam Massava, B. Chege, the late Florian Lloyd, Imma Juma, Allan Green, Eliud Ngugi and Ethiopian artist Michael Yejisaw. There are also pieces by Lawy Opiyo, Ezra Joab, Patrick Kariuki, B. Wangotho and J.K. Hassan. There is even one beaded work by Kibachi Gatu which is stretched out on goat skin that’s attached by leather laces to a frame made out of spear-like poles.
Meanwhile, several shows opened this past week. At the Attic Art Space, an exhibition by Meshack Oiro, Leevans Linyererea and Wallace Juma opened last weekend. It will remain open until end of month, but it’s best to see on weekends.