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Affordable Art Show gives amateurs chance to shine

Arts & Culture

The Affordable Art Show (AAS) is probably the most exciting event in the calendar of Kenyan art events.

This is probably the only art show where rank amateurs get to share the same exhibition space with established professionals in the industry. And just like the title indicates, this is about the only place, art lovers can acquire a piece of credible art for as little as Sh6,000, with the maximum price being Sh150,000.

This is quite something, considering that good art does not come cheap. Art pieces, done by Kenyans, have been known to fetch as much as Sh2 million. The AAS is, therefore, a collector’s dream.

Good art has been likened to land; price appreciates with time. If, today, you buy a piece of art for say Sh100,000 and you wait for 10 years, it will have appreciated in value. You only need to store it properly.

Now, this year’s AAS took place from Friday October 27 to Sunday October 29 at the Nairobi National Museum where a total of 458 artists brought in 750 pieces. This is a major improvement from last year, when there were 350 artists who submitted 600 pieces.

My experience at this year’s event was much smoother as I had Lydia Galavu, curator of the Creativity Gallery at the National Museums of Kenya, as my guide. She explained how the pieces of art were arranged according to themes. As one entered the venue, the artworks one came face to face with were those which had the theme of women.

Thought-provoking pieces

Here, the pieces were as varied as they were interesting. There was a particular nude piece that was quite thoughtful in its depiction. The woman with her head bent backwards, clutching pieces of grass, sat in the woods, with an owl flying close to her. Although her face is not visible, she appears to be in pain, probably why the owl was close by. In most African cultures, sightings of owls portend a bad omen.

Further down, to the left, were pieces that featured landscapes, seascapes, village and city life. This was followed, towards the courtyard, by the big paintings. Also on exhibition were sculptures. Lydia explained that this year, there were a number of entries by young artists, as exemplified by the styles they employed in their pieces. One of the techniques was a unique mosaic featuring Lupita Nyong’o, which echoes famous Obama Hope mosaic.

While the Obama mosaic was entirely made up of flowers, this one consisted of intricately woven threads of different colours. “This style is not new,” explained Lydia. “It has however been making a slow comeback, since 2018, courtesy of young artists.”

She added that collages, made popular by Rosemary Karuga, in the eighties, were also making a comeback, again being driven by the young artists, who are now injecting their own creativity.

Among the notable artists who graced the opening night was Michael Soi, who had two pieces, a small one and a bigger, more exciting piece, which depicted a skimpily dressed woman of easy virtue, flashing three fingers to signify the ‘mambo ni matatu’ slogan, made popular by President William Ruto.

While Ruto’s three ‘things’ have to do with the fight against corruption, Soi’s woman was outlining the three preferred modes of payment: Cash, Mpesa and Bitcoin. This piece was quickly snapped up.

Sentimental value

Soi said that AAS holds a special place in his heart. “It is here that I sold my first ever piece in 1996,” she said. “So the reason is too sentimental.”

Soi was also on the lookout for Risper Achieng’s work. “I love her work; I have collected three of her pieces. I try get her work when I can afford it,” he said.

Kivuthi Mbuno had two pieces on exhibitions, which were also snapped up, probably by collectors who know the uniqueness of his art. Mbuno belongs to the older generation of artists, most of whom are dying off. They include the late Jak Katarikawe and the late Ancent Soi. In a few years to come, their artworks will be rare collectors’ items and will be selling for a pretty penny.

AAS is an event organised by the Kenya Museum Society and founded by Marla Stone. It was an event of the Society from the mid-1990s when it was held in conjunction with the annual Visual and Performing Art Festival. After a seven-year hiatus, it was revived in 2013, in response to artists’ requests and popular demand. 

Proceeds from the event go towards supporting projects of the National Museums of Kenya. Each artist is allowed to submit a maximum of two art pieces, which are either a painting, a 3D art piece or a sculpture.

“We limit the number of entries per artist so as to allow as many artists as possible to participate,” added Marla.

“When we started out, the only Kenyan participants were those who were serving wine. Today, they not only form the majority of artists, they also form the bulk of those buying the artworks,” she explained.

 Ngunjiri is the curator of Maisha Yetu, a digital Arts and Books media platform [email protected]

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