Kenya’s 10 Best Contemporary Art Galleries: From Nairobi to Mombasa
Kenya’s constantly evolving art scene revolves around a number of emerging and world-acclaimed artists predominantly from Kenya and the surrounding East African region, with art spaces clustered around Nairobi and Mombasa. Despite the high turnover of art galleries, which remain rather limited given Kenya’s rich and growing scope of creative art forms, here are some of the best contemporary art galleries in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nanyuki and Diani Beach.
Courtesy Shifteye Gallery
The Shifteye Gallery
A trendy, new gallery, the Shifteye Gallery, is a wonderful multi-functional art venue, photographic studio and events space. Showcasing a variety of contemporary visual arts and creative forms of expression, Shifteye also serves as an interactive platform to inspire and promote dialogue between artists. Recent exhibitions at the gallery include Line & Smudge by local artist Ogonga Thon, which depicts Kenyans’ relationship with alcohol, and Out of Five by German painter and printmaker Mathias Muelhe. Since its inception in 2013, Shifteye has gained popularity over a short period of time, offering a refreshing take on Nairobi’s contemporary art scene.
Patrick Kinuthia, Giriama | Courtesy Banana Hill Art Gallery
In the heart of Kenya’s buzzing capital, the Nairobi Gallery is an inspiring museum and national monument, which features contemporary art from Kenya and Africa at large. The gallery is set in a historic building constructed in 1913, where people once came to register births, marriages, and deaths, hence the building’s nickname of ‘Hatches, Matches, and Dispatches’. The Nairobi gallery is therefore strongly connected to the city’s history and continues to contribute to its cultural development. Temporary exhibitions include Dreaming in Pictures by painter Jak Katarikawe and the Hazina Traditions, Trade and Transitions in Eastern Africa exhibition in partnership with the British Museum. Since 2013, the Nairobi Gallery has become the official home to the Murumbi African Heritage Collections – the outstanding private collection amassed by the late vice-president, Joseph Murumbi.
A leading exhibition space for contemporary African art in Nairobi, the Banana Hill Art Gallery has exhibited the work of over 70 artists and sculptors, principally from Kenya and East Africa. Founded by Shine Tani, a talented local artist, together with 12 other artists, the gallery was officially opened in 2006. Dedicated to opening up the continent’s incredible art source and promoting local art appreciation, the gallery holds exhibitions every two weeks. It showcases a large number of striking colorful paintings and remarkable sculptures which reflect a range of subjects related to the African context and landscape. Situated on the outskirts of Nairobi, north of the famous Village Market, the Banana Hill Art Gallery is worth the drive.
GoDown Arts Centre, Nairobi | Courtesy One Off Contemporary Art Gallery
A key art institution nurturing East Africa’s art talents, the GoDown Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary creative hub for contemporary art. Housed in a large renovated warehouse with a wall dedicated to evocative graffiti tags, the center consists of a main performance space, visual arts studio, an art gallery for major exhibitions, and discussion rooms. The center also runs a residency program providing an open studio, and a number of workshops and seminars to assist artistic development. Throughout the year, GoDown hosts a variety of captivating and insightful events such as the Kenya Burning photo series, which displays images of Kenya’s contested election results in 2007 and the resulting civil war in 2008, and the Nairobi Province Visual Arts Exhibition featuring works exploring the theme of Perceptions of Nairobi.
The Kuona Trust was established in 1995 with the explicit aim of addressing the lack of visibility for visual art in Kenya and the desperate need for additional workspaces and exhibition centers. More than just a gallery, Kuona Trust is dedicated to providing much-needed support and resources to visual artists in Kenya, as well as being a platform for art lovers to enjoy and engage with the unbridled creativity that exists as a result. The center is currently home to over 20 resident artists from Africa and beyond, and hosts a series of exhibitions and events throughout the year, as well as community outreach programs, workshops, and mentoring schemes. Formerly attached to the GoDown center, the trust has been in its new location in the Kilimani area of Nairobi since 2008.
Chelenge Van Rampelberg, Evolution, Gorillas on my Mind Exhibition | Courtesy One Off Contemporary Art Gallery
The One Off Contemporary Art Gallery is one of the oldest and best-loved contemporary art galleries in Nairobi. Committed to exhibiting only the very best art from Kenya and the region, One Off works with and promotes East Africa’s most established names. The gallery has represented a large number of local talents such as Peterson Kamwathi, Beatrice Wanjiku and Jackson Wanju. Apart from its large permanent stock of paintings and sculptures, every month the gallery showcases a revolving exhibition featuring the artwork of a renowned artist. Recent exhibitions include the Gorilla’s on my mind painting series by Kenyan artist Chelenge Van Rampelbergen, plus alluring exhibitions from Ethiopian artist Zerihun Seyoum and Sudanese painter Salah Ammar.
Founded by acclaimed sculpture artist Denis Matthews in 1987, the Matbronze Wildlife Art Gallery and Foundry was the first bronze foundry in East Africa. A haven for contemporary African sculptures, the gallery exhibits and sells everything from elephant statues and lion paw-shaped ashtrays to bronze starfish and coconuts, capturing the diversity of Africa’s rich fauna and flora. Guests are able to witness craftsmanship at its best by watching some of these creative processes, including bronze smelting and lost wax casting. The gallery also holds photographic art exhibitions and showcases a number of compelling wildlife and landscape paintings in various different mediums. After strolling through the gallery, visit the coffee shop and relax in the lush garden to appreciate Kenya’s wildlife through another lens.
Visitors to the Artz Gallery are always immediately engulfed by the gallery’s busy interior overflowing with stacks of original African paintings. Located in the Village Market, the gallery showcases an impressive range of artworks from some of East Africa’s rising and most celebrated artists. Run by American-based Todd Schaffer and his wife, the gallery also has a noteworthy online presence and actively shuttles paintings to the USA. Tanzanian Hendrick Lilanga, Kenyan Jane Wanjeri, and sought after Kenyan artist Daniel Njoroge, are just a few of the many talents represented by the gallery. Stop by the Artz Gallery and have a friendly chat with the knowledgeable staff at hand about any of the displayed art pieces.
A fairly new addition to Kenya’s buzzing contemporary art scene and the first of its kind in the coastal region of the country, the Diani Beach Art Gallery has become a popular art attraction. Exhibiting a wide variety of fine contemporary African art, the gallery also serves as an exciting meeting space for artists and art enthusiasts alike. It also holds regular events, art classes, and special promotions to awaken the creative spirit within you. From oil and acrylic paintings to photography and bronze, clay, and wooden sculptures, the gallery spotlights an exquisite selection of artwork by Kenyan, Ugandan, and South African artists, among others. Featuring a breezy earth-toned exhibition hall, well placed eye-catching art pieces, and a friendly ambiance, a visit to the Diani Gallery is truly a pleasure.
Originally a virtual gallery selling African art online, the Little Art Gallery has held a number of exciting art exhibitions in partnership with other institutions in Nairobi, and has finally established a physical space in Kenya’s port city of Kisumu. With impressively spacious and stylishly decorated exhibition rooms, the new Little Art Gallery has certainly caused a stir in Kisumu where it is proudly the first formal visual arts gallery. Representing artists such as Alan Githuka, Michael Soi, Patrick Kinuthia and Denis Muraguri, the gallery is committed to cultivating a culture of art appreciation in contemporary Kenya and bringing exposure to local artists.
By Lilian Diarra A previous edition of this article included Lily Pond Arts Centre in Nanyuki, Kenya. Unfortunately this space closed in March 2015.
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