In Summary
  • Art agencies are a new concept in Kenya. They are responsible for providing expert advice to individuals and corporates selecting artwork.
  • Showing 25 artists in total, Circle exposed us to visions we had never seen before. From Tanzania, we were hypnotised by Vita Malulu’s metaphorical sculpture made with wire mesh, and melted recycled plastic bags, and Nadir Tharani’s controlled blusters of ink on paper.
  • The exhibition embraced various media including monochrome prints by Rwandese artist, John Taouss Tuyisabe, curious narratives in oil by prominent Sudanese artist Salah Elmur and glossy socio-political paintings by Ugandans Paul Ndema and Eria ‘Sane’ Nsubuga.

West and South Africa are well established on the world stage for contemporary art, but what exactly does East African art look like?

Presently, with the international lens so focused on African art, collectors are actively exploring the region to discover new talent. Circle Art Agency, Kenya’s first independent art agency, is on a quest to convey the face of art in East Africa today.

Art agencies are a new concept in Kenya. They are responsible for providing expert advice to individuals and corporates selecting artwork.

Based in Nairobi, Circle Art Agency is the fastest growing agency in East Africa, and possibly the most reputable. This is largely due to the fact that they ensure that both the artists and collectors get a fair price but also because Kenyans are ready to appreciate the arts.

In 2013, Circle took Nairobi by surprise. Just a few months after their first pop-up exhibition at the swanky PWC Tower in May, they stole the limelight with a prestigious art auction at the grand Villa Rosa, Kempinski on November 5, 2013.

An influential auction, where 42 of 47 lots met their reserve price and multiple lots exceeded the estimated sales price, the event catalysed the art scene, and drew significant attention to the talented artists and high-art accessible in Kenya.

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Just a year before, local collectors had been somewhat invisible and art exhibitions were seldom acknowledged by anyone but the usual trickle of the converted.

Now, all of a sudden, Nairobi is the hub for East African art, and both local and international collectors are pursuing top names in the region. They are selecting original artwork for existing or new collections.

Circle’s second pop-up exhibition, ‘Paper’, took place in March this year at a luxurious house in Nairobi’s residential area of Lower Kabete.  Up to 90 percent of the works in the exhibition sold on the first night of the three-day show.

The most recent pop-up exhibition comprised of a comprehensive presentation of East African art prodigies.

Curator Danda Jaroljmek corresponded with long-time art associates in the region, travelling to Uganda and Tanzania to carefully select works — the extraordinary, the unusual, the experimental and the sublime.

With the support of Circle’s wide-reaching network including 32º East in Kampala, Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam, artist, Wanja Kimani and writer Karen Obling in Addis Ababa, and artist Salah Elmur in Khartoum, Jaroljmek surveyed the regional art scene, following leads on artists, both established and upcoming.

The result was ‘East African Encounters’, Circle’s third pop-up show which featured some of the most innovative artists on the scene in Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

When the doors of ‘East African Encounters’ opened to the public on Saturday, June 21, Circle had done it again!

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