What is the future for Art Galleries in Kenya

The news that an auctioneer sold art masterpieces for a song at the Gallery Watatu following rent arrears left me so worked up, I didn’t trust myself to do a coherent post and so I decided to let it sink first, simmer and hopefully turn out to be a nightmare I would wake up from.

Gallery Watatu is one of the very first art galleries to be started in Nairobi. Located at Lonhro house at the heart of Nairobi’s Central Business District, it has been operational for the last 40 years having been started by 3 artists ; Jony Waite, Robin Anderson and David Hart. However, they soon sold it off to Ruth Schafner and her husband, Adama Diawara. It is now under the directorship of Kofi Osei.

I have visited the Gallery on numerous occasions for the many exhibitions they have held admiring the many paintings and sculptures.

When I came across the article of the planned auction in one of the dailies, I was in shock! Had it become that bad! thus I went on twitter trying to find out what the general feel towards art was.

Despite being an art lover, I simply could not participate in the public lynching by taking the firewood that would see the dreams of many artists burn before their very eyes!

The auction did take place alright with masterpieces being sold for as little as Ksh. 100 (about 2 dollars).

If there was ever a day that I felt betrayed and alone as an artist, it was that day!

Thus I asked myself, “What is happening to art in Kenya? first it was the abrupt closure of RaMoMa and now Gallery Watatu!

The debate on appreciation of art versus the cost of it has been ongoing for ages and it is one I do not wish to venture into right now. I do however feel that there is a deeper underlying issue which needs to be addressed.

I normally go to Maasai Market atleast once 3 times in a month sometimes just to see what new things they have come up with and am always amazed.

A typical day at Maasai Market (photo courtesy of http://www.christoph-grandt.com)

I recently bought a bottle opener made out of decorated bone at Ksh. 100. I normally see nice but generic paintings, some in batik or oil paintings going for as little as 800, then I remember the many households I have visited only to be graced by pictures of European kids or fruits and I pose to ponder.

Appreciation of art does not start with buying a painting worth thousands of shillings, it starts with the little things like the decorations you choose to have on your walls and shelves, the mats you choose to use on your table…… get my drift?

We might not see the value of art or even its impact in our lives but you can rest assured that one day we will.

If there will still be art to appreciate then is another thing all together.

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