The art scene in Kenya is gradually coming of age. Nowadays, we read and hear stories of people who are excelling as artists and earning huge amounts of money from the same. Painters and photographers could, to some extent, attribute their success to the exhibition platforms available in the country. When the visual art is showcased somewhere people can see, chances are they will buy it if they like it and can afford it. Although there are many exhibitions held at different times of the year, there still remains much to be done.
You may or may not have heard of the Nairobi Art Buyers Weekend. It is Nairobi’s newest art exhibition which was launched mid last month. The event took place at Lavington Mall and I had a chance to talk to the inspiration behind the event -Mr. Joe Sanna. Nairobi Art Buyers Weekend be running for two days every month at the Lavington Mall and this month’s edition will be happening from 23rd-24th.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I studied design at the University of Nairobi. I later worked for an advertising agency and two NGOs in the private sector then joined Kenya Tourism Board as the head of exhibitions and travel trade shows. That really gave me a lot of exposure as we travelled all over the world doing exhibitions and coordinating travel trade participations in key exhibitions. That is how I developed a lot of networks and it helped me understand exactly how exhibitions work and their dynamics. You can call me a curator for this show. I got to develop art in its best light and therefore enhance sales. My background has been in design and marketing.
What is the reception of art in Kenya?
We still have not embraced the art culture fully. Most parents and many other people frown at art. They don’t understand how you can be an artist and earn a living out of it but who would have imagined Lupita Nyong’o would be where she is today? There’s a lot to be done to make art find its place in the society. Right now, that is not really happening as it should and therefore there is need to support the artists who are already in this industry. The education sector also needs to do much to contribute to art. Those who develop curriculums should also factor in art rather than focus only on careers in accounting, finance, law etc.
How do you compare art in Kenya to other countries in the continent?
In the past, Kenya was not really counting. It was not on the map when you talk of art. But more recently, Kenya is coming up very well. This can be attested by the art reviews on Kenyan art. West Africa and possibly South Africa are doing pretty much better than us but mostly, West Africa is leading the pack. For instance, Nigerian art has developed because their economy is stronger than ours but I am glad Kenya is catching up really fast. If you look at the middle class and how it is growing, you’ll find that we are closing in on the West Africa. Again, we should not limit ourselves to the East African market.
How do we do that?
We could take advantage of technology which has made it possible to showcase what we have on a global platform. It is through technology that we can access more markets.
What birthed Nairobi Art Buyers Weekend?
The whole idea came about as a result of our daughter’s participation in an exhibition organized by Google-Kenya manager, Charles Murito. My wife, who works in a bank, met with Charles and he told him about the event which takes place at DusitD2 every last Saturday of the month. That discussion would later see our daughter, who is an artist; showcase her art at the event. We have been supporting her by buying her art material and helping her stretch her canvas and so it was natural that we would encourage her participation at that event. While supporting her, we noticed a gap in the art industry. There are very few platforms for artists to showcase their work and market what they are doing. That’s how we established NABW. We are in this space to support art and help artists grow their craft even more.
How has been the response so far?
We have received very positive feedback. People have talked positively about it yet it is only our first exhibition. We have featured renowned artists such as Clavers Odhiambo and Wakaba Mutheki. Wakaba left for South Africa when he was about 19 years and he is now recognized globally for his work. He was impressed by what he saw here and that says something about the pieces on display. Our plan is to bring together an interesting exhibition of art. We will give priority to the local artists but once in a while, we will bring in international artists just to get the global flavor of art.
Who are the targeted artists that you would like to nurture?
We are open to artists in diverse age pools but we are looking more at the younger ones especially in the 6-17 years’ bracket. We will have some painting tutorials where skilled artists will teach these young people. We will also organize art competitions under different categories and have a panel of judges to help us in getting the finest talent. It will not stop there as we want them to have fun while learning and competing. The winners will get trophies and all the participants will get certificates of recognition. We also plan to bring on board companies which are interested in work for the course of kids.
Is it going to be exclusively in Nairobi? Are you planning on exploring new markets?
For now, we are going to be situated where the market is strongest. We will be here in Nairobi, specifically Lavington mall, but in future we will definitely be moving to other Malls.
What’s the future of this event?
As you are aware, this is our inaugural event. We have only started out but we hope to reach a point where we will bring Travel Trade on board and make it possible for tourists who visit Kenya to buy pieces of art from here. Although our focus is mainly on paintings, we will introduce other forms of art such as sculptures, jewelry, mixed media and photography.