ISK annual exhibition an alluring market for art lovers

The annual International School of Kenya (ISK) Friends of the Arts (FOTA) exhibition is one show that artists all over Nairobi look forward to, despite the fact that FOTA organisers consistently urge the artists to price their paintings, sculptures and mixed media works “affordably” – meaning they are normally priced Sh40,000 downwards.

“We don’t insist but we tell them the average sale price is around Sh35,000,” said Meg Connor, co-chairperson of FOTA.

A few artists priced their work at several thousand shillings more this year for the exhibition that featured 50 Kenyan and Nairobi-based East African artists, earning more than Sh1.1 million in total.

“The artists sold around one-third of their works and received 75 per cent of their asking price,” said Ms Connor who otherwise works with E-Kitabu, the online book sales store.

Noting that ISK only takes a 25 per cent commission on the artists’ sales as compared to some other galleries that take up to 50 per cent, Ms Connor explained that FOTA, being a non-profit, gives that money away to an art project of their choice.

“We donate the 25 per cent to a group called Artists for Development which runs art classes for children in underserved marginalised communities,” the FOTA co-chair added.

“Last year, Artists for Development ran a pilot project in Kibera at the Little Prince School, which was quite successful,” she said.

One crowd stopper every year is the wall on which FOTA hangs a series of miniature paintings by both younger local artists like Jeffie Magina, Gloria Muthoka, Wilson Matunda and Mukono Gikonyo as well as by more established ones like Alex Wainaina, Mary Anne Muthoni, Patricia Njeri Ndungu and Wycliffe Opondo.

All of those miniatures are like abbreviated versions of what each of the artists had on display elsewhere, only they sell from Sh10,000 downwards.

The FOTA show is exceptional for enabling the public to get a quick overview of the thriving contemporary Kenyan visual arts scene offering an excellent cross section of local artists.

Among those I was delighted to see exhibiting at FOTA this year were Cyrus Kabiru, who exhibited the poster from his recent one-man exhibition at the Smac Gallery in South Africa.

There was also a wide range of artists whose art will be featured in the forthcoming Kenya Arts Diary 2016 that will be launched at the Heinrich Boll Foundation on November 6.

They include Waweru Githoka, John Kariuki, Gloria Muthoka and Jeffie Magina, among others.