Lovers of art will be pleased to know they can now enjoy some of the best creative works from Kenyan artists at the new Michael Joseph Centre located on the ground floor of Safaricom House in Westlands. The ultra modern centre has the capacity to exhibit 30 artists at any one time.
The centre is capitalising on the huge traffic of people coming to do business with Safaricom as well as Safaricom’s own staff to provide a platform for upcoming artists to showcase their art.
All these people will be able to interact with the displayed art pieces every day and hopefully, with time, buy a few. This is the concept behind the new exhibition.
The art addresses critical things, like urban culture and politics. “We’re hoping this space will give different people a cost-effective platform to showcase their work,” says Zaheeda Suleman-Arain, Safaricom’s publicity manager who is overseeing the new centre.
The telecoms company is also hoping to instil an appreciation among the artists it works with for what it knows and does best: making money. “We want to see them take their art to the next level,” says Wangari Muguru, Safaricom’s head of marketing and communication, “to understand that you can’t just be creative, you’ve got to live off it.”
This move may be a step in the right direction towards setting up a real art market in a region where high-end appreciation has never been ingrained. In South Africa, many of the best private art collections are held by corporations, mirroring the trend in the industrialised world.
Meanwhile, the Michael Joseph Centre is becoming a major attraction, particularly for art lovers, who frequent here to interact with the interesting art pieces on showcase.
Safaricom does not have any plans yet to establish a permanent collection, But just the act of constructing an accessible space where art can be displayed for art’s sake – not as meaningless decoration – grants the medium intrinsic value which will, hopefully, translate to more local sales.
Around 70% of the current sales at the Rahimtulla Museum of Art (RAMOMA), which also exhibits a lot of local art, still come from expatriates and tourists. Growing interest from Kenya’s middle class would be good for the gallery.
East Africa is now commanding more attention from big-time curators and buyers in Europe. This new trend can be traced back to the Africa Remix show put on by Simon Njami at London’s Hayward Gallery in 2005 which featured work from across the African continent.
Kenyan art is gaining international acclaim. The works of Lilanga and Onyango, for instance, have even found their way into the Pigozzi Collection which is the largest private collection of contemporary African art in the world patched together by the Italian venture capitalist Jean Pigozzi and his French curator, André Magnin.
Tapping the European market has been West Africa’s secret to success for some time. But the region also has a much longer tradition of art-making and loving, spawned by a less nomadic heritage and ties to France. It may be decades before East Africa catches up.
Galleries in Kenya need to learn how to package and market their artists. They must also figure out how to support themselves. A solid history of sales will also need to be built up to make pricing art and promoting its prospective appreciation easier. RAMOMA is in the midst of a significant restructuring as it hunts for new funding and focus.
Support from leading corporations like Safaricom will play a big role here. Especially because the Kenyan government has an endless string of other priorities that come before investing in the arts.
Have you visited any of the art exhibitions at the Michael Joseph Centre or RAMOMA? What is your take on the Kenyan art scene? Leave a comment below.