The fourth Kenya Arts Festival fell short of the high expectations that had been set in previous years.
There were still any number of outstanding young and experienced older artists who exhibited this year. But they were fewer than in years past. Plus a number of galleries didn’t participate this year. The few that did were The Little Art Gallery, Bobea Art Centre and BIEA.
FAR FEWER ART TALKS
What’s more, there were far fewer art talks, panels and group discussions than in years past.
Diagnoses of the various factors that may have contributed to the decline in the Art Fair 2017 are manifold.
Most people note that Sarit Centre’s rental fees shot sky high (relatively speaking) this year such that at least one exhibitor was stunned when after paying Sh11,300 for a booth in 2016, it was asked to pay more than Sh33,000 by the Fair organisers who apparently got advise from Sarit’s owners, the Textbook Centre.
So quite a few people told me the cost of participating this year was prohibitive.
Some speculated that the departure of Sylvia Gichia, the former director of Kuona Trust, also contributed to the Fair losing ground.
Sylvia had been a driving force in the founding of the Art Fair so her absence might have played a part.
Then too, the circumstances of her departure could have contributed as well since Kuona has never quite recovered from the unfortunate financial situation that led to her moving out of the Trust.
What’s more, of the three Trust organisers of the Fair, only one, Sheila Akwany, had been involved with its organisation from the outset. The others were relative newcomers compared to Sheila.
PLEASED TO BE THERE
Nonetheless, most of the artists who participated in 2017 were pleased to be there.
The attendance was lower than in years past.
But those who managed to come were keen to see what new works would be displayed.
Some of the most successful booths contained group collections, such as those of Kenyatta University, Dust Depo, Kuona Trust, the GoDown, Brush tu Art Studio, The Mix: Kakuma Refugee Artists and the quartet of young women artists who called themselves Ziwa Zambarau.
Then too, the brave solo artists who brought their works to the Fair included some of Nairobi’s more high profile people such as Joseph Bertiers Mbatia, Michael Soi, Patrick Kinuthia, Njee Muturi, John Silver (with his students Endo and Kimani), Patrick Ng’ang’a, Melusine Towler, Elaine Kehew, Eddy Ochieng, John Ndungu, Njogu Kuria (with Jeremia Sonko) and Pascal Chuma.
And as always the Wasanii Exhibition offered a valuable opportunities for mainly newcomers to display their works since the cost of displaying their art was minimal, if not free.
Ironically, it was there that one found the lovely artwork by Hussein Halfawi which constituted the front and back covers of this year’s catalogue.