RaMoMA, a Nairobi-based art gallery, brought together works by some of East Africa’s finest contemporary artists March 17-April 28, 2010 in a bid to sensitise the public on the culture of collecting art.
In an exhibition dubbed “Collectors and Collections”, RaMoMA presented the artworks under Figurative Work, RaMoMA Collection, Abstract Work, and Collectible Artists.
The aim was to guide art enthusiasts in particular and the public in general on the processes of identifying various types of artworks and artists. According to RaMoMA, “a real passion for art is a good place to start, though this passion can be built and nurtured over time. Buying art should be pleasurable and the social interaction that accompanies exhibition openings as well as art events contributes to an active social life,” its exhibition brochure says.
The figurative or art that is more representational of real life was displayed in the Valdor gallery on the ground floor. A notable painting here was Drosie by Richard Onyango whose work has been featured in many international publications on African artists and was the only East African artist to have his work in the Bonhams African auction event in New York in early 2010.
Also on display here were the works of Peter Elungat and Patrick Mukabi. Elungat, a largely self-taught artist said to be one of Kenya’s most popular painters whose European Renaissance-like women are a popular hit with the buyers, had a large oil-on-canvas painting of a woman titled, The Gift and the Custodian.
The real figurative art display could not have been complete without the vibrant colours and voluptuous African women that endear the painter, Mukabi, to many people as he regularly sketches using real life models.
RaMoMA has also built a permanent collection of paintings, sculptures, art installations and videos, most of which have been donated by artists, benefactors or bought for the purposes of growing the collection for Kenya’s benefit and future generations.
A snapshot of RaMoMA’s collection consists of work by a first generation Kenyan painter, Kivuthi Mbuno, who has been displayed in galleries around the world. Also included here are the works of Joseph Mbatia (Bertiers) who is arguably a rare example of a successful sculptor and painter whose work depicts talent, versatility and humour.
The abstract (non representational work in form, line and colour) work offered a view of some well known East African artists such as Mary Collis, Jak Katarikawe, and Wanyu Brush who won a national Head of State Commendation for painting in 2010.
The introduction to the exhibition says that abstract art “is difficult to understand and the only way to begin to understand it is to engage with it and talk to the artists about their work.”
Stating that “There is no substitute for looking at art”, the pamphlet adds that the “more you do so and become accustomed to doing so, the more you begin to appreciate and understand both the work and the artist’s thought process. At first the work might appear as a simple blur of colour or a naive attempt to represent an object but with time and understanding a great appreciation of this type of work is born.”
The Collectible Artists category had few only a handful actors on show. Textile design has been a big part of Naitrobi-based Sudanese artist El Tayeb and this influence is apparent with the use of batik style material used on his canvases. Other featured artists were Peterson Kamwathi, Fitsum Berhe and Allan Githuka.
The Collectors and Collections exhibition brought together the theme of collecting art both from an individual point of view as well as from a corporate or institutional perspective.
A new collector is advised to know why he or she wants to buy art: “You should buy what you like and trust your taste; you do not have to follow what other collectors are buying and buy the same, although talking to different collectors may inspire you to go and look up the work of an unknown artist,” says a part of the promotional material.
“Collecting art is an evolving process and an education in itself. Do not be afraid to make mistakes as tastes change over time and something you bought five years ago may not be appealing to you now.”
Saying there is no right or wrong way of collecting art, the publication adds that if one can afford a painting or a sculpture “then the best way to engage with art is to buy and live with it.”
The idea of a collection from an institutional part of view is in part to collect and house a part of culture and history. Artists have a way of showing and depicting life around them at a particular point in a country’s history and context. It is important to keep some of this work within the country and also document the artist’s work: who they are, how relevant they are or where one is on the Kenyan art scene at a particular moment.
The East African art market requires a secondary market and auction houses which help to increase the value of an artist’s work and “Collectors and Collections” leads to questions of how this can be achieved without a foundation on the arts and art appreciation from a tender age.