A Guide to Art Galleries in Kenya
The Art Scene in Kenya
The future of art is never one you can place a finger on – the one you can make certain prediction about, and it has certainly proven quite a surprise in Kenya. If the growing art scene in Nairobi is anything to go by, Kenya is making great strides in showcasing art, and artists from around Africa are converging here at Nairobi to grow their pursuits. They’ve been using a variety of technologies and approaches, from the classic canvas paintings to the abstract art and reposeful sculpting using both traditional carving and advanced 3D-printing technology. It is a revolution that’s received high-praise and interest from the city residents and a range of art dealers. In addition to providing convenience and sometimes alternative touring sites in the cities, art galleries around Kenya are connecting people and occupying an art space that was previously obscure. In Nairobi, the epicenter of the art scene in Kenya, more than a handful of expertly curated art galleries now hold regular symposiums and exhibitions that bring together art collectors and art lovers – and even those with no experience in art – to useful gatherings that are assuredly spreading the love of art in Kenya. In places such as London where world-class art is everywhere you look when it comes to a trip to the capital, seeking out new art could be less of an adventure. London’s fine galleries, and there are many, is an indefectible ambition for an art scene, and it has been over a century in the making. The art scene in Kenya is new, innocent, but altogether determined and unique. The shift is driven by a need to create art stirred by local issues for a local market. In doing so, art galleries in Kenya have adopted contemporary art perhaps faster than any other country in East Africa.
“Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But an exceptional artist – a master – and that is what Auguste Rodin was-can look at an old woman, protray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done to her. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn’t matter to you and me; we were never meant to be admired-but it does to them.” – Robert Heinlein
1. Red Hill Art Gallery
Red Hill Art Gallery provides support and a platform to encourage local creative talent and African Art. It expositions a cross-section of high-quality latter-day and contemporary African art which include paintings and sculptures. It also hosts regular displays that aim to play-up upcoming artists. Unique to Red Hill Art Gallery is its bright and lively indoors harmonized with a verdant landscape. “It offers a superb and wholly appropriate space devoted to passion for African Art. The gallery owns a large collection, amassed over a period of 25 years by the owners, that amounts to a very astutely selected cross-section of the finest modern and contemporary African artwork, including paintings and sculptures. This collection provides the foundation of the exhibition programme. What’s more, the gallery presents several shows yearly dedicated to individual artists”.
2. Banana Hill Art Gallery
This is found 10 kms from Red Hill Art Gallery via Limuru Road and Ndenderu-Banana Links Road. Founded by Rahab and Shine Tani in 1995 to support art and artists in Kenya, Banana Hill Studio now hosts artwork from over 70 artists from all over Africa, with 20+ priced pieces. It exhibits some of Kenya’s most beautiful paintings and sculptures – with a big emphasis on African art. “Since inception, Banana Hill has opened its doors to East African Art, foremost by exhibiting art from neighbours Tanzania and Uganda. This increased the fame of the Gallery among artists’ circles in the region, and soon other East African artists found their way to the Gallery. In 2011 we increased our geographical scope by organizing an exhibition by Kofi Agoso from Ghana, West Africa” – Banana Hill Gallery. The Banana Hill Studio is open daily from 10:00 am-6:00 pm and Sunday from noon. It also operates an online store. A trip here is easily combined with a visit to Red Hill Art Gallery, Brown’s Cheese and All Saint Limuru. Banana Hill Gallery is set 23 kms from Nairobi via Banana Raini Road.
3. The Little Art Gallery, Kisumu
Originally established as a virtual gallery selling art online, the Little Art Gallery eventually opened its exhibition gallery in 2014, where art-work from leading artists in Kenya and upcoming stars is displayed. Little Art Gallery is focused on promoting the understanding of Kenyan art and broadening the support base of Kenyan art collectors. The Little Art Gallery Kisumu is found near Kisumu Port. “The official launch of The Little Art Gallery was last weekend. The venue itself was one lengthy spacious showcase filled with well-hung paintings by Nairobi-based artists, such as Michael Soi, Alex Mbevo, Dennis Muraguri, Yassir Ali and Adil Roufi as well as a number of Kisumu artists such as Eric Ayoti, Edward Orato and Willis Otieno” – Margaretta Gacheru (May, 2014) for Nation Media.
4. Diani Beach Art Gallery
Launched in September 2010 as Diani Beach Art Gallery within Diana Mall, it is the leading art gallery in the South Coast Region fostering both African Art and exceptional international artwork through exhibiting, selling and in supporting artists. Of particular interest at Diani Beach Art Gallery are its African Artists’ Art which retail both at the gallery and on its online platform. It’s perhaps the only place along the Coast of Kenya to offer such a wide variety of fine African art – paintings (oil and acrylic on canvas/board, mixed media), vast sculptures (bronzes, other metal, clay, or wood), and photographs (framed and unframed).
5. African Heritage House
The usual route to the central and southern areas of Machakos is via the A104 Nairobi-Mombasa Road. There are two alternatives routes via Ruiri-Kangundo Road, and via A3, C100 and C97 Makutano-Kitui Road. Along the first, just 23 kms southeast of Nairobi, near Mlolongo, sits the acclaimed African Heritage House. Inspired by the mud designs apposite with many traditional societies in Africa, this house is popularly-known as the continent’s first pan-Africa gallery. Conceptualized by Alan Donovan (a widely travelled humanitarian expert) and former Vice President Joseph Murumbi, in 1979, African Heritage House has embraced from its beginning a sincere love for showcasing African art, music, festivals, costume, food and exhibitions culminating in an age-less and deeply moving expo of Africa’s diversity. Praised as ‘the most photographed house in Kenya’, and doubling as a museum and lodge, it is a living documentary and a far-reaching history vault of so much art and originators stories collected from 40 years of travelling in Africa. At first glance, each piece and sculptor appears self-explanatory, yet, collectively, the art takes one on a self-reflecting trip of Africa’s diversity. Art aside, African Heritage House lacks very little in beauty, with stellar views of Nairobi National Park, Athi Kapiti Plains, and Ngong Hills.
6. The GoDowns Art Centre
About 1 kms north of Panari Hotel the Southern Bypass Interchange is reached. Taking a left, the Southern Bypass goes past the Nairobi National Park, through Langata and Ngong Forest Sanctuary, before joining the Nairobi-Uganda Road near Kikuyu. Taking a right, the Southern Bypass goes into the Industrial Area, which is one of two ways to reach the Go Down Art Centre. “Founded in 2003, in a space that was formerly a car repair warehouse, the Centre has contributed significantly to the growth, recognition, and visibility of local artist by fostering and facilitating collaborations and encounters between artists from different disciplines and different parts of the world”. One of its noble flagship programs – The Economy of Creative – helps budding artists reflect on the trajectory of their own life journeys as creatives, and as entrepreneurs, looking at ways they can identify and plug skills and knowledge gaps in their own practice, as well as, open outwards to embrace new innovations and technologies, and networks. It can also be reached by taking exit 3 (right) at the Nyayo Stadium Roundabout, 6 kms north of the Bypass and Panari Hotel, along Lusaka and Mukenia Roads.
7. Matbronze Art Gallery & Foundry
Matbronze exists as a wildlife art gallery alongside serving a simple, wholesome menu in the suburbia area of Karen just 1 km south of Utamaduni Craft Centre along Langata South Road and Kifaru Lane. The gallery space displays one of the largest exposition of wildlife bronzes in Africa. Over of six hundred pieces, ranging from cuff-links to life size crocodiles, all of superior workmanship, offer the visitor the thrill of discovery, what is new and what is in process, with most of the pieces on the easel on sale. No show entry fee, and once in the attracting display room meticulously arranged for display to a rather excellent standard of housekeeping, it is a moving experience admist the muted but ornate wildlife sculptures. And yes, their peaceful garden is a sculpture garden too. It is right outside the central gallery display, and it is a pleasant place to show the visitors how the bronze sculptures can look outside. Matbronze Art Gallery & Foundry is open daily: Monday to Thursday: 0800 to 1700; Friday 0800 to 2000; Saturday 0800 to 1730; and Sunday 0930 to 1700. It also hosts ‘private’ events.
8. Bonzo Art Gallery
Nairobi is a city of diversity, and nowhere is its diversification more apparent that at the nexus of art galleries and studios located between Ngong Road and Waiyaki Way, in the middle-upper developed suburbias of Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Lavington. The explosion of art galleries in Nairobi, especially in the last decade, extends to the city’s personality of being outward looking, in response to a market and appetite for art inspired by both local and international issues. So it makes sense that Adrian Nduma, the impresario of the Bonzo Art Gallery (situated along Ngong Road not far from the Kenya Meteorological Department Headquarters) turned to contemporary inspiration, his work style ranging from realistic to abstract and including portraits and still life and commissions. He works largely in acrylics. “The company seeks to ‘minister to humanity through art’. In so doing, we put together innovative and market-friendly services to continuously respond to ever-changing market demands of the Fine Art sub-sector of the economy” – Bonzo Art. The gallery, brimming with artwork from artists in a good deal of genres but largely in the “modern art”, can be visited on weekdays between 0800 to 1700 hours. For more information on their artwork and visiting the studio, do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0722 761247.
9. Circle Art Agency
By 2010 it had become clear that art scene in Kenya was gaining a foothold and expanding rapidly. And in 2012 Circle Art Gallery made an exciting entry to the contemporary art scene in Kenya. Its entrance came at a time when the industry was changing considerably in the region, and especially in Kenya, with growing audiences, artists having more opportunities; making quite an impression on the impact which contemporary art might have in time to come. What made the entrance all more exciting was it providing crackerjack services to a wide range of private, regional and international clients, from those who wish to make a single purchase to those looking to start a collection or enhance an existing one; spurring a wave of publicity and interest in local art. Open daily from 1000 to 1700 hours, Circle Art Gallery exhibits a carefully curated and diverse collection of art, from a diverse group of contemporary artists across East Africa, offering an agreeable destination for presentations from local and international artists, curators, art critics, and art collectors. It is situated at 910 James Gichuru Road.
10. Kioko Mwitiki Art Gallery
The search for genuine Kenyan art appears to have propelled many homegrown and seasoned artists into income options that may be creating the vast assembly of outstanding galleries and exposure in fantastic portfolio of art. A noteworthy name, Kioko Mwitiki Art Gallery, one that is hard to miss along James Gichuru Road set alongside the Lavington Mall with its self-same insignia printed on the rooftop, is a smart and vibrant gallery. Along its spaces are splendid sculptures and paintings. A mixed show of paintings, sculptures, macramé and print arts from numerous artists. “You must know of Kioko – the man who makes metal sculptures. If you have gone to the Kenyatta International Airport you will have seen his elephants on the roundabout. His metal sculptures are imaginative – and often witty. There are many good examples in the gallery. He is sharing his ability with other artists – four of them currently – John Fox. Or again, “Kioko Mwitiki has set the bar very high. For not only did the scrap metal sculptor get so good at creating life-size Kenyan wildlife out of scraps that he had to send whole containers-full of his sculptures abroad just to meet his clients’ desires for his art” – Margaretta Gacheru. Entry fees applicable: Adults 300; Kids 100.
11. Photizo Art Gallery
If you are seeking original and iconic work from contemporary African space, appropriately priced, you will probably find your next big thing at the Photizo Gallery. More than one hundred paintings can be found here, with a one-of-a-kind online shopping platform of beautiful art pieces from Africa. Founded in 2013 with just one artist represented, it now pride themselves in representing over 50 top East and Central African Artists. It is located at Valley Arcade Mall.
12. Upepe Photography Gallery
Another great space for name-dropping, but also for keeping your finger on the pulse. It displays a limited edition art photography from Kenya. “All the works are limited editions, original prints that are numbered and have an authenticity certificate. The photos are developed by a professional laboratory in Kenya and hand-checked on high quality paper, the frames are made by local craftsmen in Nairobi. Each print is available in a mix of sizes, materials, and finishes. They sell them with or without a frame. The pictures can be printed in maximum 48 hours and put into a tube for easier transport. They also deliver outside Kenya”.
13. Kuona Trust
Established in 1995 as the Centre for Visual Arts in Kenya, Kuona Trust is now the largest art organization in East Africa, intent on mentoring and supporting up-coming artists. It has been dedicated to the generation, presentation and promotion of innovative contemporary visual arts practice in Kenya. Its artists studios, its library, programme of exhibitions, artists-forums, workshops and mentoring, and international residencies have been instrumental in developing new and experimental contemporary art. The Kuona Gallery and Kuona Art Shop, that are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, offers a great place for art lovers and artists to see, buy, and learn plenty about the art space in Kenya. It is found along Likoni Lane, Likoni Close and Dennis Pritt Road, in the Hurlingham area.
14. Shift Eye Studios
Another great space for art-lovers and artists is the multi-functional Shift Eye Studios, formerly known as Shift Eye Gallery, located in the Priory Place nearby Hurlingham. This art centre focuses on showcasing contemporary visual arts – with emphasis on photographic forms of expression – as a platform to inspire and foster dialogue in the budding photography scene in Kenya. It holds regular exhibitions and events at the gallery-space, and is open daily on weekdays from 10 am to 5:30 pm. It is found in the Priory Place, close to Yaya and Chaka Place.
15. Nairobi Gallery
Fondly remembered as the “House of Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches” owing to its original function of recording marriages, births, and deaths’, the Nairobi Gallery stands as an old-world landmark of Nairobi and a stark reminder of her endearing history. Built in 1913, and once the regional post office, it now hosts many art fares and expos. Listed as a National Monument, it is part of Nairobi City’s epochal sites. It’s located off Kenyatta Avenue near GPO and Uhuru Park.