ART CULTURE

Nairobi’s vibrant art market points to a boom

Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email licensing@ft.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at https://www.ft.com/tour. https://www.ft.com/content/29baf814-501d-11e6-8172-e39ecd3b86fc Forty-seven works from east Africa went under the hammer, two selling for more than Ks1m ($10,000). At last November’s sale, four works beat that price; the most expensive piece, by Ugandan painter Geoffrey Mukasa, who died in 2009, fetched Ks1.7m. “We couldn’t believe it,”

Appreciation has grown for contemporary Kenyan art, both at home and abroad

As Paul Onditi prepared to move his family back to Kenya after a decade as a struggling artist in Germany, his former art school professor tried to dissuade him. “How can you leave your life here and go back?” the teacher asked. “How will you survive?” But Onditi says he was barely surviving in Europe. “I had nine years of [financial] drought. It’s winter, it’s minus 20, you can’t heat your house, the water is cut off, there is not enough money to buy food.” Six years later, Onditi, who was born in Nairobi in 1980, has made an international name for himself. But he is not the only artist finding success at home. Some of Kenya’s younger artists are now selling works for thousands of dollars — prices that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And, as appreciation grows for contemporary Kenyan art, both at home and abroad, many hope Kenya is on the cusp of an art boom. In a dilapidated plot off a potholed road in Nairobi, Onditi now works out of a shipping container turned studio alongside a security company and South Sudanese refugees taking adult education classes. His dusty laptop is surrounded by paints, brushes and ideas for future projects jotted on notepaper. “When I landed [back] here, it was a big struggle,” he says. “Everyone said: ‘When are you going back to Europe?’” One day, a friend of his took six of his paintings to Kuona Trust, an influential Nairobi art collective, where an Indian visitor spotted them and bought them all. Shortly afterwards, Onditi had a show at the Alliance Française, the French cultural institution, and almost sold out. “I was like, ‘Am I in Kenya?’ Why was the country I left 10 years ago on such a high, buying art? It was all taking me by surprise,” he says. The country’s first major auction of east African art, held at Circle Art Agency in Nairobi in 2013, was a pivotal moment. “We were telling people that artists [here] were doing well, and the art was an investment,” says Danda Jaroljmek, the agency’s director. “But how could we say that if there was nowhere to sell art?” That first auction — it is now an annual event — drew a mix of international buyers and affluent Kenyans. Forty-seven works from east Africa went under the hammer, two selling for more than Ks1m ($10,000). At last November’s sale, four works beat that price; the most expensive piece, by Ugandan painter Geoffrey Mukasa, who died in 2009, fetched Ks1.7m. “We couldn’t believe it,” says Jaroljmek. “It was extraordinary.”

Read the whole story here https://www.ft.com/content/29baf814-501d-11e6-8172-e39ecd3b86fc

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