Good news is in the works for Kenyan artists after a proposal was presented to establish a national art gallery by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).
It will be a place where “the important role or art in documenting the social, historical and cultural evolution of the country can be appreciated”, said director general of NMK, Mzalendo Kibunji.
The proposed gallery, to be located in the Nairobi National Museum, will focus on visual arts and give a storyline of Kenyan art from prehistory and traditional to the modern times.
Last month, a panel of veteran artists was invited present ideas for the National Art Gallery of Kenya (Nagok).
World renowned ceramicist from Kenya Magdalene Odundo said it was important to have an international standard art institution that would be interactive and welcoming.
Tony Wainaina, chair of the National Museums board, envisions an international public space for all to learn about and appreciate Kenyan art history and heritage.
The concept of Nagok is not new. It was in the national development plan of 1970-1974 but never materialised.
“Even today, efforts continue towards reviewing and operationalising existing Cultural Policies and Bills for Kenya,” said Lydia Gatundu Galavu, curator of contemporary art at the NMK.
The success of the project depends on securing funds from the government, which is expected to be the major sponsor. Lack of funding along with an unsustainable local art market has resulted in low visibility and voice of art in Kenya, said Galavu.
“If art activities had been constantly at the forefront of public achievements it would have pushed the government to recognise the economic and other potential and to take action,” she added.
Around the world, state-sponsored art galleries are some of the most prestigious institutions, such as the National Galleries of Art in London and Washington DC, the National Gallery of Modern Art in Lagos and the Iziko South African National Gallery.
Kenya’s national art gallery will be the first of its kind in East Africa since formal art education started in the 1930s.
Galavu views contemporary Kenyan art as East African in context “because fine arts tutorage in East Africa was predominantly at Makerere University at that time”.