For most folks, various works of arts such as sculptures, paintings and installations are
widely considered as luxury items, and hardly regarded as a necessity.
A common lament expressed by potential art buyers, is supposedly the high price tags,
which local visual artists and sculptors peg on their creative artworks.
Indisputably, it would require financial empowerment for ordinary Kenyans to place
value on investing in the purchase of affordable indigenous works of art.
Yet according to a cross section of artists, prices are often driven by market dictates.
“There comes a time when artists have to operate their career as a business venture.
Though people raise concerns on prices, rising taxes on already costly materials pose a
huge challenge,” says mixed media artist Otieno Kota.
Canvas does not come cheap and is expensive. Similarly, brushes and coloured paints
are costly. The space to exhibit or display artworks is often billed inclusive of gallery’s
“How then can the end product, be less costly when the material costs and creativity
that goes into each piece of paintings or sculptures is combined?” poses Kota.
Often, arguments arise, that widespread apathy among most Kenyans to buy art is due
to high prices. On average, they range from about Ksh. 6, 500 up to Ksh. 140, 000 for
a standard-sized painting.
According to prolific painter Sammy Lutaya, the average price for artworks he displays
at solo or group exhibitions are bound to be hinged on numerous factors.
“On some instances, someone walks into a gallery and on the basis of the individual’s
evident appreciation for my work, we can negotiate. I may thus sell a particular piece
for less than its initial value,” he remarks.
But how often do they encounter potential buyers who attach value for their creative
muses depicted on canvas or any other mediums? – I ask a cross section of visual
“I can’t talk on behalf of others,” opines artist Kota. “The question on whether tourists,
expatriates, or Kenyans have an eye for art largely depends on individual experiences”.
Seasoned painter Simon Muriithi, argues that there is no middle course. One either
likes art or does not, he notes; hence it is almost impossible to compel people who
may be indifferent to begin to appreciate artworks.
“If you cannot feel the energy, connect or are not drawn to the creative muses, there
is little an artist can do to influence the opinions of others,” he adds.
Many artists concede occasionally spending hours on end, trying to explain to those
who are still ignorant, about the essence in works of art.
“Irrespective of whether individuals can grasp the value of art – there is no way to
push them to cherish a painting or sculpture,” remarks Muriithi.
But the dearth of potential art buyers hardly discourages local visual artists from
consistently creating and working on new ideas.
“Though it is still difficult to sell art locally, one has to work hard to make potential
enthusiasts discover your work,” notes artist Mary Ogembo.
Wanjohi Nyamu, who dabbles in sculptures or paintings, regularly encounters buyers,
who are unsure whether to ignore or attach tangible value on works of art.
“From past experience, sculptures are not easy to sell – bigger pieces often require
enough space unlike hanging paintings on bare walls. Before investing in a sculptural
piece, one has to create room at home or in the office,” he points out.