By Sharon Atieno Onyango with Ogova Ondego
Published December 11, 2015
A two-day pilot programme aimed at developing both the creative process and professional skills of emerging visual artists while giving their more established counterparts the opportunity to pass on their experience, resources, knowledge, and insight has just ended in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Held at Nairobi Gallery in the central business district of the Kenyan metropolis, the pilot programme targeted 25 participants and was held December 3-4, 2015.
The first day was devoted to Painting and discussion by veteran artist Ancent Soi and mid-break talks on ‘Supporting your art career with alternative investments’ by artist and businessman Hosea Muchugu and ‘Why I buy local art’ by sponsor and collector, Mugwe Manga.
The second day saw veteran sculptor Elkana Ongesa tackling Sculpting and discussion, with mid-break talk on ‘Building confidence in art career management’ by artist and gallerist Adrian Nduma.
The event was seen as a ground-breaking initiative as it was supported by local resources from Banana Hill Art Gallery, Bonzo Art Gallery, Kenice Investment, and Mugwe Manga.
Artists were challenged to shed the often demeaning image of dependence for one of an independent professional.
“Artists should respect their trade and make people avoid seeing them as desperate people who always require being bailed out by others,” Adriane Nduma, a fine artist who also doubles up as Vice Chair of Kenyan Visual Artists’ Network, told the gathering on December 4.
Urging artists to view their creativity as the profitable business it is, Nduma advised them to get together in groups, draft business plans, and conduct baseline surveys on art pricing, exhibition and selling points, art buyers and art publicity and promotion.
Ongesa advised the audience against Instead of overly relying on government, Ongesa said, artists would do better if they participate in international competitions and network with others both locally and internationally.
“Work collectively. Form associations. Support one another,” Mugwe Manga advised, saying this could facilitate easier commissioning of work and place more money in the pockets of artists at the grassroots.
“Include not just artists in your associations but also art collectors and corporate organizations,” Ongesa said. “Take care of one another without forgetting the older artists and local art collectors. Encourage and support collectors through giving them donations and discounts as they help in popularisng your art when they display it publicly.”
Appealing to the gathering to employ technology in marketing themselves and their work, Manga advised them to adopt the social media.
The importance of thematic storytelling in fine arts was stressed by Ongesa.
“Stories sell; make art that tell stories. Don’t limit yourself to Kenya, though, but explore other countries as well,” Ongesa advised.
Manga concurred with, “Make art which tell Kenyan stories as it will make Kenyans more appreciative of art, especially when it preserves their own cultures”.
The gathered artists expressed their frustrations on issues such as the lack of a national art gallery, the duration of exhibitions at Nairobi National Museum (NNM) as being too long for any one single artist and thus denying many more of the opportunity to showcase their work, and that NNM took way too long to pay any artist whose works had been sold during any exhibition it hosts.
Responding, Lydia Gatundu-Galavu, the curator of contemporary art at National Museums of Kenya (NMK) that is in charge of all museums and monuments in Kenya, including Nairobi Gallery, said, “The government is working on building a national art gallery” and that “for maximum exposure, NNM cannot allocate any time that is less than a month to any one artist whose work it accepts for exhibition.”
She said the delay in payment came not from the galleries but the accounts office of NNM.
The two day workshop was graced by three generations of fine artists in Kenya with the aim of bridging the gap among these artists by giving them a platform to work together, share experiences and ideas to help develop the art sector of the country.
“This workshop has encouraged me to persevere on this art journey; I was on the brink of giving up. I have been painting for the past two years without seeing any tangible benefit but now, I have got a new energy and inspiration,” said Ron Lukes, a graduate of fine art and design from Kenyatta University.
Peter Kibuja, who introduced himself as a freelance artist who has been painting since 1993, said, “I am enlightened. I used to use many colours when painting but now I can use only two. It has also helped me to reach out to others for networking purposes.”
For Rose Kanini, a part-time artist of 12 years, “Meeting pioneer artists has motivated me to endure through challenges and working with budding artists has been a good opportunity. I have learnt how to market my art and become exposed without being dependent on others.”
Beatrice Wangeci, curatorial assistant in charge of art at the Nairobi Gallery, described the event as having been successful: “This pilot project has been a great success and we plan to make it an annual event.”