Fewer galleries, shrinking art space

Saturday February 25 2017

One of Emmanuel Juma’s pictures from Lamu. PHOTO | COURTESY  OF EMMANUEL JUMA

One of Emmanuel Juma’s pictures from Lamu. PHOTO | COURTESY OF EMMANUEL JUMA 

By Kari Mutu

A week ago, gallery director Wambui Kamiru Collymore announced that The Art Space will close at the end of this month.

Art gallery closures are not new to Kenya. Vibrant spaces such as Gallery Watatu, the African Heritage House and RaMoMa shut down after years of operation.

Today, art spaces are reinventing themselves, as creators, art promoters and gallery owners review the best way to market Kenyan art, making more use of technology to support the traditional gallery space.

Much has been written about the ongoing tribulations of the Kuona Trust. The Fundii Centre for the Arts announced last month that they will be closing at the end of February because their gallery location could not sustain the continued growth. But like The Art Space, the unofficial word is that there were long-time challenges with renting the premises.

For Fundii Centre, this is a temporary closure as the gallery is currently hunting for a new site, but in the meantime their social media platforms remain dormant.

Back to The Art Space; they came onto the art scene in late 2015 with great enthusiasm. Since then, the gallery has held 12 shows and featured works of artists from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania.

The primary goal of The Art Space was to drive art consumption in the local market, which they achieved by selling artworks at an average of Ksh20,000 ($200) apiece.

Wambui said that they got more sales through their website and brochure than from direct gallery purchases, and she plans to keep these platforms active as part of their future “gallery without walls” model.

She will also continue with pop-up exhibitions in non-traditional spaces. The Art Space recently curated a show of works by Patrick Kinuthia and Emmanuel Jambo at the Lord Erroll restaurant in Nairobi.

Last year, they hosted public conversations with featured artists, discussions and film sessions of African movies covering race, gender identity and politics.

“We want to risk a little more… to lead controversial exhibitions,” a statement by the gallery says.