East African art auction now a real tour de force

One of the artworks by Rosemary Karuga that was part of the Seventh Annual Art Auction East Africa at the Raddison Blu, Nairobi, on March 6, 2020 . PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • One special feature of this year’s art auction was that nearly half the artworks were by Kenyans.
  • It was the first time that Danda included so many local artists in the event.

The Seventh Annual Art Auction East Africa took place last night at the Raddison Blu Ballroom in Nairobi. It featured artworks that Circle Art Gallery founder-curator Danda Jaroljmek had assembled, drawn from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt and Congo.

One special feature of this year’s art auction was that nearly half the artworks were by Kenyans. There were 70 lots in the auction, with no less than 30 Kenyans represented.


It was the first time that Danda included so many local artists in the event. It was an achievement for them since an art auction is the quickest way to gain global recognition.

One reason for this is because the Art Auction East Africa has gained a reputation since 2013 for providing an opportunity for the public to see and potentially own some of the best artworks by both established and up-and-coming artists in the region.

Circle Art wisely put the catalogue for this year’s Auction online several weeks ago so anyone could check out what they might want to bid on and then register in good time.

Circle Art also had a preview exhibition of all the artworks in the auction at its gallery the week before last night’s event, so again, prospective buyers could actually come and see what they might want to own.


Another reason the auction was good for artists to be in was because it has become both a secondary and primary art market where increasing numbers of collectors have become art investors, prepared to put up for auction an artwork they may have bought years ago.

The owner might now want to see how that piece had accrued in value since the initial purchase. It’s at the auction where they will find that out.

And as the value of East African art is going up at an accelerated rate, so have some owners of it have sought out Circle Art to see if their piece is worthy to go up for auction. And if it is, who knows what will happen to it at the auction.

For instance, last year, two paintings by the late Tanzanian artist E.S. Tingatinga had the provenance of ‘Private Collector’.

As several clients from abroad had expressed interest in Tingatinga’s art, the auction organisers hooked up international phone lines for them to call in to place their bids.

Because two callers bid on the first Tingatinga, a ‘bidding war’ ensued with that piece eventually selling for several million shillings. The second one went for much less, which goes to show how anything can happen at the Art Auction.


The fact that prospective buyers can call in from anywhere in the world, be it Hong Kong or Houston, adds even more social capital to the artists selected to be in the art auction.

There have been a number of Kenyans in previous auctions. A number of them were featured this year, including Richard Kimathi, Yony Waite, Edward Njenga, Ancent Soi, Rosemary Karuga, Eunice and Sane Wadu, Tabitha wa Thuku and Kamal Shah.

Being featured in the Auction offers an unparalleled opportunity for all of them. And there are several in the above listing whose ‘new’ works are in this year’s auction, such as Richard Kimathi, Kamal Shah, Edward Njenga, Rosemary Karuga and Tabitha wa Thuku.

There are others who had never been in the auction before, such as Chain Muhandi, Kota Otieno, and Joel Oswaggo who had virtually disappeared from the local art scene but ‘returned’ this year thanks to Danda’s effort to trace him and his art back to his rural home.