Wanjiku featured No 1 in New York’s African art fair

Saturday May 14 2016

Untitled, by Beatrice Wanjiku shown in New York. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY

Untitled, by Beatrice Wanjiku shown in New York. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY 

By Frank Whalley

No sooner did I suggest last week that Beatrice Wanjiku was a talent to watch, with paintings of museum quality in her current show at the One-Off in Nairobi, then I have the satisfaction of seeing that the international art market seems to agree.

Artnet, a website devoted to the worldwide arts scene, lists Wanjiku as No 1 in its Top Ten list of artists showing at the prestigious 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, in New York.

Others in the list included the Senegalese painter Omar Ba and Phoebe Boswell, a multimedia artist and filmmaker based in London.

Wanjiku’s No 1 ranking came with her showing of an untitled painting of a figure from her powerful Straitjacket series. In it, straitjackets and other bindings represent the moral constraints imposed on us by our role models in society. They mean well but restrict our freedom and hinder our development. Her figures occupy the gap between our expectations and reality and highlight the disparity.

Wanjiku’s selection — 11 works; oils and acrylics on canvas and charcoal drawings on paper — was taken to New York by dealer Lavinia Calza, who runs the agency ARTLabAfrica from her house in Karen, Nairobi.

A delighted Calza commented: “Yes! New Yorkers rock — they really get it!”

And Wanjiku added: “It’s exciting because little was known of me abroad so it’s great that they are taking to the work.”

Previously Calza has enjoyed success promoting Kenyan artists Peterson Kamwathi and Paul Onditi abroad.

All Kamwathi’s works were sold at last year’s 1.54 Art Fair at Somerset House, in London while Onditi was presented to an appreciative public earlier this year at the Volta art fair in New York, which showcases the best of the world’s emerging artists.