When my daughter said that she had to do an extended project (EPQ) as part of her A’level studies, I figured that suggesting a topic that both of us were interested in might be a good move. Especially since there was never any doubt that I was going to be the designated driver for this adventure. So she settled on ‘the exploding East African art scene‘ (specific title to be decided), and doing on the ground research over the past couple of weeks has been a blast. She’s been so lucky chatting to both gallery owners and artists in person, all of whom have been remarkably open and happy to be interviewed.
So while I thought I would be cooking, relaxing, feeling slightly stir crazy this school holiday since we are staying at home (kind of splashed out on the ski trip, so needs must), what I have actually been doing is driving all over Nairobi, looking for butter (there isn’t any in stores because of the recent drought) and touring various Nairobi art studios and galleries.
*It’s been so all consuming that this post will need to be split into 2 parts.
Banana Hill gallery is tucked up past a place called Ruaka, out of town. If you want to avoid Ruaka traffic, then there are various, slightly scary off road tracks weaving between corrugated iron homes etc. The first time I tried to get there, I gave up. The second time, I wasn’t with my daughter but dragged my parents after our blow out lunch at BrownsCheese . I met and chatted to gallery owner Shine Tani who told his story on BBC Outlook. It was a more organised and bigger space than I had anticipated (after listening to the podcast). I told Shine Tani that he was very famous and he laughed, saying that he was in France when the interview came out. A lot of the artists we chatted to are really pretty well travelled. In spite of the location in a slightly deprived area, the gallery still commands serious prices for the works on sale there. There was an exhibition of work by Tanzanian artist Haji Chilonga.
Next stop – One Off Contemporary Art Gallery
The gallery is wonderfully eccentric, set in the owner’s garden in a residential area in Runda. There’s a long drive and once you park up, you are first greeted by geese and a pack of rather odd ball dogs. Stepping stones lead through the trees, down the garden to the gallery itself which is packed to the gunnels with exciting canvasses which each need explanation by gallery owner Carol Lees, otherwise you would simply feel overwhelmed. With over 20 years experience in the business, she is a fountain of knowledge.
We did pretty well popping into the Kuona Trust studio/gallery space for up and coming artists, mainly because we bumped into an artist right off the bat, Dickson Kaloki who was exhibiting there and he was happy to chat. Kuona Trust is a hive of activity in the Kilimani area with around 30 artists based there renting studio space, mainly in containers, at a subsidised rent. We also chatted to a charming John Silver, artist and print maker, who has exhibited overseas too (it seems that everyone we met has)
Next up.…meeting the slightly world weary Michael Soi, “so many people that I’ve never even met, even 19 year olds, are experts in my work”
Plus Patrick Kinuthia‘s latest exhibition at Polka Dot art gallery.
My big problem? I just want to buy everything dammit… Would love to go down in history as a grand patron of East African art, but with only 3 paintings so far, it’s looking unlikely…
Related Posts: Contemporary African Art is kind of a BIG DEAL
*If you would like to book your own tour of Nairobi’s galleries and studio spaces then you can, with a blogger guide. Book an Airbnb Experience. Just a quick tip – stamina required!!