This year’s Kenya Art Fair at Sarit Centre was a relatively Spartan affair.
There were fewer booths than in years past due to the inflated costs of booking a display booth. The fees shot up nearly three times, scaring away many artists.
The fact that there were fewer artist talks and panels this year was surprising given the thriving nature of Nairobi’s local art scene. Three sessions of art talks is all we got this year.
This is in contrast to years past when during the four-day festival, there could have been at least three sessions every day (apart from opening night).
And occasionally three in a morning and two or three in the afternoon.
No doubt, audiences (which largely consisted of up-and-coming younger artists) appreciated hearing from Mukuru-based artist Shabu Mwangi.
In addition to his illustrious career as a painter, he is also the founder the Wajukii Art Project which has mentored many young Kenyan artists from informal settlements.
The ‘Q and A’ session between the Kenyatta University lecturer and painter Anne Mwiti, Kuona-based artist and co-founder of Brush tu Art David Thuku and Dan Handa, one of the Fair organisers, was also well received.
Young artists were especially keen to hear from Circle Art Gallery co-founder and curator Danda Jacoljmek who offered insights into moving forward in the local art industry.
One of the best things about the Art Fair is that younger artists got a chance to meet some of the older, more seasoned artists.
For instance, this year three giant sculptures by Joseph Bertiers Mbatia took centre stage at the fair.
So when he finally arrived, he had a slew of visitors to his booth and to his larger-than-life sculptures wanting to discuss his marvellous artworks.
Another well-seasoned artist who booked a booth of his own and attracted the attention of many young Kenyans was the painter and jewellery artist Njee Muturi.
He creates exquisite bracelets, necklaces, rings and earrings out of silver spoons and forks. There were about 10 solo exhibitions at the fair.
They included artworks by Michael Soi, Patrick Kinuthia, John Ndungu, Pascal Chuma, Elaine Kehew, Eddy Ochieng’, Patrick Ng’ang’a and Melusine Towler.
But what was more exciting was seeing so many new faces showcasing their art for the first time.
The one I was most excited about was Ziwa Zambarau, a quartet of young Kenyan women artists who have formed one of the first women visual artists’ collectives (HAWA spearheaded by Lydia Galava was the first).
The group includes Virginia Wakianda, Moira Bush Kimani, Naitiemu Nyantom and Evilidah Wasai.
There were at least 12 booths devoted to group displays. Among the groups were Dust Depo, Brush tu Art, Bobea Art Centre, The GoDown, Little Art Gallery, The Mix from Kakuma Refugee Camp, Cross Stitch, BIEA, Kenyatta University, Silver, Kimani and Endo, Njogu and Sonko, and of course, Kuona Trust who launched the first Kenya Art Fair and organised it ever since.
One of the most popular venues at the fair, apart from the Wasanii Exhibition, was Caricatures, the booth where artists Paul Njihia, Nadia Wamunyu and James Njoroge created affordable and fun portraits of visitors right on the spot.
Finally, the art fair catalogue was well done this year with the cover painting by Hussein Halfawi and the design by Jess Atieno.