Vintage works to prime at yearly EA art auction

Sunday November 12 2023

Jak Katarikawe, Ugandan artist art at Art Auction East Africa on November 12, 2023. PHOTO | POOL


This year’s Art Auction East Africa set for November 14 is a vintage collection of classics, often early works by some of Kenya’s best-known and coveted artists of the last 20 to 30 years.

The yearly art auction which attracts art buyers from different parts of the world, has beautiful pieces by artists from Uganda (Jak Katarikawe and Theresa Musoke), Tanzania (E.S. Tingatinga) and Sudan (Issam Hafiez as well as several from Ivory Coast (Georges Ebrin Adingra), South Africa (Charles Sekano), Congo (Robert Saidi) and many others.

But it is the Kenyans that may elicit the most interest locally since the showcase, curated by Danda Jaroljmek, includes works by everyone from Richard Kimathi, Samuel Githui, Yony Waite, Sane Wadu and Ancent Soi to Peter Elungat, Rosemary Karuga, Kamal Shah, Shabu Mwangi and Gakunju Kaigwa.

Read: Collection of East Africa’s finest artwork on auction

The auction will have paintings, prints, sculptures, and a bit of photography.

“Virtually everything in the auction this year has come through the secondary market,” Danda tells the East African.


“We had always intended to become [a secondary market], and now the time has finally come,” she adds.

But there could be other motivations for collectors of East African art to bring works that they had enjoyed in their homes for years, to Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi.

“For one thing, they [art collectors] know they’ll make more by bringing their art to an auction rather than trying to sell it themselves,” she says.

In the secondary market, sellers resell their artworks. The prices for such artworks on the secondary market are determined by the condition of the piece, where it comes from, and the significance of a work.

Last year, artworks worth Ksh30.5 million were sold at the auction, making it the most successful edition of the art auction to date.

The previous year, art buyers spent Ksh23.18 million at a similar auction.

Read: How online art shows took paintings to wider audience

Owing to the hard economic times, people who had bought artworks, not as an investment, may see the reality of their earning value.

But there are other reasons for selling pre-owned paintings, prints and sculptures at the auction.

I knew one German woman who had lived in Kenya for 11 years and bought loads of East African art.

But back in Europe, her home was not as spacious. She sold the artworks in the auction, earning a profit.

There will be several surprising discoveries in this upcoming art auction, one being a rare Kisii stone sculpture by Gakunju Kaigwa which he produced while apprenticing under the Ugandan sculptor John Odoch Ameny at the African Heritage Kisii stone workshop.

Another discovery is of the terracotta sculpture by Rosemary Karuga who is best known for her collage, but majored in sculpture at Makerere University where she became Kenya’s first female university graduate.

She created collage art using the only medium she had access to, shredded flour paper bags and paper wrappers for Rexona soap. She recently passed on in her 90s.

And again, when we described this collection as vintage, we could have been looking at the classic painting by Yony Waite which is of the wildebeest migration.

Read: Kenya's first online art auction almost sells out

The wildebeest became one of Yony’s emblematic images. She even named her four-story studio in Lamu the Wildebeeste Workshop.

There is a life force infused into all of her paintings. It is also a reason to watch the way the bidding goes for one of Yony's iconic works.

There will also be several print series in the auction this year.

“These will be more affordable to bidders who might hesitate to bid on the paintings.”

'This year’s auction will be streaming live, so the public can watch the whole event in which auctioneer, Chilson Wamoja, will take us through all 45 lots in a few hours. One can also take a peek at the art beforehand, either by checking the catalogue on the website or by visiting the gallery itself," Danda said.