Vincent Shikuku is not a well known name within the Kenya art world, that is not until his painting was splashed on the front cover of the new 2020 Kenya Arts Diary.
Neither was Arnold Jaoko who normally works from Kisumu and whose artworks only went public when he shared art space recently with Coster Ojwang at Polka Dot Gallery. Yet he made it to the back cover of the new Diary.
And even Fatma Issa Holm is hardly a household name on the local art scene. That is understandable, however since the Lamu-born artist is currently based in Norway.
But Fatma, Jaoko and Shikuku are all three among the 70 Kenyan and other East African artists whose artworks are not only included in the new Diary (which was just launched at the Heinrich Boell Foundation).
They are also on display at the Nairobi National Museum until the end of this month.
“The Kenya Arts Diary is meant to expose up-and-coming Kenyan artists to the wider world,” says Nani Croze, founder of the Diary which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
“Ours is not just a diary,” she adds, noting a different artist is featured every week from January through December.
“It is a catalogue of what the local art scene looks like right now,” says Lyne Were who has assisted in putting the Diary together over the last few years.
What the Diary has attempted to do is capture the pulse of Nairobi’s rapidly growing art scene, which in 2019 included exhibiting artists who came from Uganda, Tanzania, Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria and Canada.
One way that has been done is for KAD volunteers to attend as many exhibitions as they can. They also visit artists’ studios to see what is new and fresh.
“We also invite artists to send us images of their work for consideration,” adds Lyne. “That is how we first heard about Zuber Bakhrani. The Mombasa-based artist sent us images of his seascapes that we liked very much. It was as simple as that,” she added.
The other thing the KAD committee does is ensure the diaries stay cutting edge is to have a policy of never including artists in the diary on consecutive years.
The one exception in the 2020 diary is Michael Musyoka who not only had a successful show at the Red Hill Gallery. He was also one of the few Kenyan artists whose painting was featured in the East African Art Auction.
The new diary also includes several well-known local artists such as Kioko Mwitiki whose life-size scavenged-metal wildlife sculptures are featured in many prominent places like Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Patrick Mukabi is also in the 2020 diary as is Bertiers Mbatia, Chelenge van Rampelberg and Elkana Ong’esa, all of whom have featured in previous diaries starting from 2011.
“So whether someone keeps a [hardback] diary or not, many people buy the diary just to have a catalogue of some of the best young artists in Kenya and East Africa today,” said Ms Croze who attributed a good part of the Diary’s success to its publisher, Kul Graphics.
The one big challenge Ms Croze admits the Diary has faced is the lack of corporate support. But in 2020, Ms Croze says the Diary will come under new management.
Nonetheless, a number of Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan artists are already lined up to be in the 2021 edition.