On this particular Saturday in November, Victor, who goes by the moniker Viktart in such circles, is having a light hearted business conversation with another young man. Edwin, the young man, is impressed  by all the pieces Victor is exhibiting. However, he is quite taken by one; it is a painting of drummer, in various stages of emotion, ecstasy and movement. The scowl on his face a bit paradoxical, which perhaps makes the piece more charming, more attractive.

“Siiiick!”  Edwin keeps saying over and over during the conversation, in reference to the artwork.

At the moment, he is not in a position to pay for the piece. He is trying to strike a common ground with Victor, for possible future business, or another form of trade.

“Just come to my studio. And we can start from there.” Victor advises.

Victor paints from the Railways Museum, which is located at the Kenya Railways train station in the City centre. But on this day, he had been invited to exhibit at a Pop Up Art Gallery at The Den, at Nairobi’s upscale boutique hotel Dusit. Here, he stands next to his three oil paintings on show alongside works from artists who are also present.

Victor, and the artists are busy talking to patrons, of all ages. The questions they are answering centre mostly around the artworks, and their artistic processes. However, they also include bits of business discussions, present and future, those happening and the probable. Here, there is no middleman, no manager. There is no other person who is going to have the conversation on behalf of the artists, and therefore potentially staking claim to part of the proceeds from their work.

This is informed by the thoughts that motivated the convenor of these exhibitions. Charles Murito can be conservatively described as an avid art collector and fan. He knows his way around the art world, right from where to find traditional African art pieces in downtown Nairobi to the politics of high end art auctions like Sothebys.

Initially, he invited artists to his house to show their artworks to a few friends of his. This way, he surmised, the artists could not only get to push their work, but also get to engage new audiences who could be  buying art for the first time. A scenario like this also enables artists to engage directly with buyers, and potential buyers, and thus establish and own relationships with these buyers.

“The monthly exhibition is set to encourage creative freedom by eliminating the bureaucratic system that is being witnessed in brokers, middlemen and hosts of art exhibitions who tend to gain more than the artists themselves,”  Charles told The Star sometime last year.

The Pop-up outgrew his home and Dusit agreed to come on board as a host. They are held at The Den thus the name The Den Pop-up Art Gallery. These exhibitions are done pro bono, possibly reducing the prices of the artworks, making them more affordable.

The exhibitions also now feature  a kids’ corner which is run by Patrick Mukabi. It aligns with one of  the initial principles as well of having artists mentor young and upcoming artists to nurture a culture that appreciates art.

The Den Pop-up Art Gallery and Auction is now a monthly event. Initially, the artists exhibiting were not announced in advance but that has changed a bit now. Artists, both established and up and coming, have been invited to exhibit, including Edward Wadimba, who was then a visiting Ugandan painter.

The next exhibition will take place on the 25th of February, from noon till 6PM. Entry is free.


Feature Image: Patrons walk between art pieces during the 2015 Kenya Art Fair at the Sarit Centre.

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