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Joseph Murumbi’s art centre dream comes to life

By Thorn Mulli | October 23rd 2013

By Thorn Mulli

Nairobi , Kenya: As the sun set on Mashujaa Day, a highlight event honouring one of Kenya’s greatest heroes, Joseph Murumbi, unfolded in the heart of Nairobi.

The Murumbi African Heritage collection was officially unveiled in pomp and colour, with various dignitaries led by former National Museums of Kenya (Museum Sites and Monuments) Director Dr Hassan Arero Wario, presently Sports Cabinet Secretary in tow.

Murumbi, Kenya’s first foreign minister and the second vice-president resigned from government in 1966 and served his country and the world by collecting, preserving, protecting and promoting African art and culture in all its forms.

The event was held at the Nairobi Gallery, formerly Old PC building.

The event featured breathtaking one of a kind culturally significant items like books, cultural attire, fabric and post stamps that have since vanished as a result of urbanisation. Renowned artistes, including like Sanaa Gateja and Ancent Soi, had their work displayed.

The former established Studio Sanaa, one of the first galleries in Mombasa in 1971 but is currently based in Kampala and uses barkcloth and other local materials in his art.

The latter, on the other hand, was selected out of all entries from Africa to create the poster for the World Olympics in the 1970’s in Munich, which brought him world fame.

Of significance also was a clay vessel by Lady Magdalene Odundo placed at the centre of rotunda, which is the centre of Nairobi.

Received distinction

Odundo is the only Kenyan to achieve such a distinction, having received Order of the British Empire   from the Queen of England for her work.

Sculptor Elkana Ong’esa present at the unveiling ceremony applauded efforts by the government to lay emphasis on visual arts even as he hoped that more support would be forthcoming.

Speaking off the cuff, Dr Wario as if responding to Elkana’s sentiments, hinted of plans to erect a true art gallery to house Kenyan art.

Dr Wario, the current chairman of the National Committee of Independence Celebrations, noted in good humour that it was a privilege fitting Murumbi’s shoes on such an auspicious day, as Murumbi also held a similar position in 1963.

He concluded by commending Murumbi Trust Chairman Allan Donovan’s loyalty to his friend Murumbi, expressing that Murumbi had one problem, “he was ahead of himself.”

Donovan paid tribute to his late friend and business partner with whom together with Sheila Murumbi opened the continent’s first Pan African Gallery in 1972, explaining that it had been a long journey for the Murumbi legacy that finally saw collections by Africa’s most famous private collectors finally find a final resting place.

“It was Joe Murumbi’s dream to have a centre where artists from all over the continent could show their works, see and meet other artists,” said Mr Donovan.

The highlight of the event was entertainment by Ayub Ogada and a dazzling cultural fashion show at the gallery parking lot with items drawn from African Heritage Design Company and awarding of one of the longest reigning body builders, Fred Odinga.

Murumbi sold a considerable part of his collection to Kenya National Archives in 1976 after a fire gutted the gallery on Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi.

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