An art first for Kenya

East Africa’s first ever commercial modern and contemporary art auction in Nairobi last week generated sales of more than $US200 000.

About 90 percent of the 47 auctioned works in East Africa’s first ever commercial modern and contemporary art auction were sold. They were produced over the last 40-plus years by artists from across East Africa.

The most expensive piece sold for almost $US20 000: a painting entitled “Celebrations” by the late Ugandan artist Geoffrey Mukasa. The oil on canvas shows a lively party scene of drums and dancing. It went for almost double its catalogue price.

“There are some hidden treasures that form part of Kenya's cultural history dating from 1967 to 2013,” read a statement issued before the auction by Circle Art Agency, which was established to help cultivate the contemporary art market in East Africa.

Some of the works for sale had not been seen in public for decades. The agency’s Danda Jaroljmek told Kenya's Star newspaper: “Over the last few months we travelled to numerous places in search of exceptional works, many of which were buried away in artists’ studios in neighbouring towns or hanging on hidden corridors in collectors’ homes.”

After the auction, Jaroljmek was quoted as saying: “It was a real success... I can't believe it.”

While Kenyan artists dominated the auction, artists from Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda were represented. More than half of the works sold to local collectors. Some pieces went for three or four times their catalogue prices.