For a young artist aspiring to showcase and sell their Contemporary African paintings or other creative visual arts in Kenya, the challenge of marketing and selling work is inescapable.
From a lack of an informed local audience to an over-reliance on tourists as the primary target market for Contemporary African paintings, local artists are either reduced to producing their work as a hobby or contemporary art suffers as more artwork is created with the tourist as the target which inhibits the freedom of art. For Ruth Nyambura, while the poor arts infrastructure is a constant in the local scene, the passion for painting endures.
As with a majority of visual artists in Kenya, where art education in schools is lacking, Nyambura is a self-taught artist who began experimenting with paint in Contemporary African paintings at the university after years of sketching since childhood. After examining the “Masai Moran”, which is not only her first painting but also what she refers to as an invaluable piece and a constant reminder of her artistic journey, there is unmistakable progress in her work. Since then she has completed a versatile collection of paintings on rural Africa along with its radiance and shortcomings, the redeeming beauty of Kenya’s geography and wildlife, the disorder of Nairobi city, in addition to commissioned portraits.
Her Contemporary African paintings draw inspiration from nature, the human form and the chaos of the city to create serene, inspiring and thought-provoking pieces. Nyambura’s paintings are in oil, airy watercolors colors whose vibrancy mirrors the African spirit and environment. You can see more Contemporary African artists here.
Overcoming the industry constraints is a continuous struggle for young artists who continue to create uniquely inspired Contemporary African paintings, but the general attitude and space accorded to visual arts in the Kenyan society leaves a lot to be desired. Nyambura notes that “not only is spending on visual arts regarded by a lot of Kenyans as an extravagance, but art materials are also quite expensive and are not readily available even when one lives in the city. This inhibits artistic development and discourages aspiring artists from taking up painting.” According to Nyambura, innovative and diversified ways of exhibiting art, mentorship, art criticism and collaboration are some of the other critical areas which require improvement.
Despite the void in education, marketing and selling of Contemporary African paintings, Nyambura has consistently painted for over a decade, since her passion for the craft persists even as she juggles with formal employment. It may seem a cliché, but passion really is the only string that holds the artists to their art here, as there is no promise of fame, prestige or financial rewards; rather the promise is self-realization and perhaps, a continuous search for freedom.
Written by Florence Njoki
I am a Nairobi-based freelance writer, editor and poet specializing in social justice, entrepreneurship, literature, visual arts and travel. I am particularly fascinated by the arts and their influence in consistently moving our world and changing lives.
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