2018 was ‘off the charts’ as far as contemporary Kenyan art was concerned. One can’t recall a year when there was so much activity among artists who not only exhibited at well-known venues like the National Museum and galleries like Circle Art, One Off, Banana Hill, Red Hill, Polka Dot and the Nairobi Gallery. These were all sites where a wide array of exhibitions were held throughout the year.
Artists also got into the habit of holding ‘pop-up’ shows so that they exhibited their work everywhere from Muthaiga Heights (with Beta-Arts), Metta in Westlands, Karen Landmark, Karen Country Club, Uhuru Garden (at Dream Kona) and the Railways Museum where the BSQ graffiti artists re-designed an old railway car into their own colourful studio.
BSQ were not the only artists to open their studios for show. Brush Tu Art did it. So did Kuona Artists Collective (on a monthly basis). So did Dust Depo. And even artists who had set up studios at Kobo Trust opened their spaces to show their new works this year.
A number of individual artists opened up art spaces of their own. Painters like Adrian Nduma already had Bonzo Gallery while sculptors like Kioko Mwitiki previously had Pimbi Gallery. But then Jeffie Magina left the GoDown to set up Studio Soko while Chelenge van Rampelberg opened her own Chelenge Home Studio. And Geraldine Robarts built a whole new gallery in her back yard. Even the Dutch art consultant Willem Kevenaar opened The Attic literally upstairs in his Nyari home and it was quickly becoming an art space of people’s choice this past year.
Hotels were also more actively supportive of Kenyan artists this year. The Norfolk started the year off by having a solo show for Coster Ojwang right out in their front lobby. Hill Park Hotel held their first exhibition showing Kaafiri Kariuki’s ‘Dancing Pen’ paintings.
The new Tamarind Tree Hotel also had a group show of Kenyans, collaborating with Polka Dot Gallery. Sankara Hotel had quarterly exhibitions in collaboration with One Off Gallery. Serena Hotel also collaborated with African Heritage House’s Alan Donovan to exhibit sculptures by the late Expedito Mwebe as well as pre-colonial works from Nigeria, Congo and Kenya.
The Intercontinental showed works by Tina Benarwa, Ruth Nyakundi and Dinesh Revankar. And even Sarova Stanley held a one-night visual art festival. But it was the Dusit D2 that hosted a house-full crowd for the 2018 East African Art Auction which was curated by Circle Art Gallery.
The success of the East African auction apparently sparked a wider interest in auctions this year. The TNR Trust (the animal welfare group) had its own Silent Art Auction in cooperation with One Off Gallery. So did Paa ya Paa Art Centre. Kenyan artists were also involved in art auctions in South Africa and UK in 2018.
Meanwhile, restaurants and malls were busy having shows. Village Market hosted several East African artists’ exhibitions while Lavington Mall gave space to up-and-comers exhibiting. Carnivore, Lord Erroll and the Talisman among others opened up their walls for artists to exhibit their art.
But some of the largest group shows were hosted by the foreign cultural centres. The French, Germans, British, Americans, Russian and Danes all assisted Kenyan artists with exhibition space. Alliance Francaise was still the prime location for artists to exhibit.
But still the British Institute of Eastern Africa was also quite active as they brought back their ‘Remains, Waste & Metonymy’ and initiated the cross-cultural showcase of food with ‘Kukolacho.’ The Americans annually support two major shows, one being the KMS Affordable Art Show at the National Museum, the other the ISK Friends of the Arts (FOTA) exhibition, both of which attract substantial art-loving audiences. The Germans’ Goethe Institute also hosted a number of exhibitions while Heinrich Boell Foundation launched the 2019 Kenya Arts Diary featuring an exhibition of artists’ works which were featured in the Diary.
And while the GoDown Art Centre ended the year by moving artists working there out while it’s involved in renovating a new space, another art centre was being born upcountry at Tafaria Castle where George Waititu also runs artist residencies for adventurous Kenyans.
Finally, the clearest sign of the vibrancy of Kenyan art is seeing how every major gallery was fully booked throughout the year with shows by everyone from veteran artists like Yony Waite and Magdalene Odondo to Kamwathi, Abusharia, and artists from Wajukuu, Maasai Mbili and Karen Village.
The one major loss of 2018 was the demise of the inimitable Jak Katarikawe.