Kenya’s constantly evolving art scene revolves around a number of emerging and world-acclaimed artists predominantly from Kenya and the surrounding East African region, with art spaces clustered around Nairobi and Mombasa. Despite the high turnover of art galleries, which remain rather limited given Kenya’s rich and growing scope of creative art forms, these are some of the best contemporary art galleries in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nanyuki and Diani Beach.
The Shifteye Gallery
A trendy brand new gallery, the Shifteye Gallery is a wonderful multi-functional art venue, photographic studio and events space. Showcasing a variety of contemporary visual arts and creative forms of expression, Shifteye also serves as an interactive platform to inspire and promote dialogue between artists. Recent exhibitions at the gallery include Line & Smudge by local artist Ogonga Thon, which depicts Kenyans’ relationship with alcohol, andOut of Five by German painter and printmaker Mathias Muelhe featuring his best works over the five years he spent living in Kenya. Since its inception in 2013, Shifteye has gained popularity over a short period of time, offering a refreshing take on Nairobi’s contemporary art scene.
In the heart of Kenya’s buzzing capital, the Nairobi Gallery is a great museum and national monument featuring contemporary art from Kenya and Africa at large. The gallery is set in a historic building constructed in 1913, where people once came to register births, marriages and deaths, hence the building’s nickname of ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’. In this way, the Nairobi gallery is strongly connected to the city’s history and continues to contribute to its cultural development. Temporary exhibitions include Dreaming in Pictures by painter Jak Katarikawe and the Hazina Traditions, Trade and Transitions in Eastern Africa exhibition in partnership with the British Museum. Since 2013, the Nairobi Gallery has become the official home to the Murumbi African Heritage Collections – the outstanding private collection amassed by the late vice-president, Joseph Murumbi.
Banana Hill Art Gallery
A leading exhibition space for contemporary African art in Nairobi, the Banana Hill Art Galleryhas exhibited the work of over 70 artists and sculptors, principally from Kenya and East Africa. Founded by Shine Tani, a brilliant local artist, together with 12 other artists, the gallery was officially opened in 2006. Dedicated to opening up the continent’s incredible art source and promoting local art appreciation, the gallery holds exhibitions every two weeks showcasing a large number of striking colourful paintings and remarkable sculptures reflecting a range of subjects related to the African context and landscape. Situated on the outskirts of Nairobi, North of the famous Village Market, the Banana Hill Art Gallery is definitely worth the drive.
The GoDown Arts Centre
A key art institution nurturing East Africa’s art talents, the GoDown Arts Centre is a multi-disciplinary creative hub for contemporary art. Housed in a large renovated warehouse with a wall dedicated to evocative graffiti tags, the centre consists of a main performance space, visual arts studio, an art gallery for major exhibitions, and discussion rooms. The centre also runs a residence programme providing an open studio, and a number of workshops and seminars to assist artistic development. Throughout the year, GoDown hosts a variety of captivating and insightful events such as the Kenya Burning photo series displaying images of Kenya’s contested election results in 2007 and the resulting civil war in 2008, and the Nairobi Province Visual Arts Exhibition featuring works exploring the theme of Perceptions of Nairobi.
One Off Contemporary Art Gallery
The One Off Contemporary Art Gallery is one of the oldest and best-loved contemporary art galleries in Nairobi. Committed to exhibiting only the very best art from Kenya and the region, One Off works with and promotes East Africa’s most established names. The gallery has represented a large number of local talents such as Peterson Kamwathi, Beatrice Wanjiku and Jackson Wanju. Apart from its large permanent stock of paintings and sculptures, every month the gallery showcases a revolving exhibition featuring the artwork of a renowned artist. Recent exhibitions include the ‘Gorilla’s on my mind’ painting series by Kenyan artist Chelenge Van Rampelbergen, and alluring exhibitions by visiting Ethiopian artist Zerihun Seyoum and Sudanese painter Salah Ammar.
Matbronze Wildlife Art Gallery and Foundry
Started by acclaimed sculpture artist Denis Matthews in 1987, the Matbronze Wildlife Art Gallery and Foundry was the first bronze foundry in East Africa. A haven for contemporary African sculptures, the gallery exhibits and sells everything from elephant statues and lion paw-shaped ashtrays to bronze starfish and coconuts, capturing the diversity of Africa’s rich fauna and flora. Guests are invited to watch part of the creation process such as bronze smelting and lost wax casting, witnessing craftsmanship at its best. The gallery also showcases a number of compelling wildlife and landscape paintings in various media and holds occasional photographic art exhibitions. After strolling through the gallery, stop by the coffee shop and relax in the lush garden abundant with animal sculptures, and appreciate Kenya’s wildlife through another lens.
Visitors to the Artz Gallery are always greeted with a smile and become immediately engulfed by the gallery’s busy interior overflowing with stacks of original African paintings. Located in the Village Market, the gallery showcases an impressive range of artworks from some of East Africa’s rising and most celebrated artists. Run by American-based Todd Schaffer and his wife, the gallery also has a noteworthy online presence and actively shuttles paintings to the USA. Tanzanian Hendrick Lilanga, Kenyan Jane Wanjeri and one of Kenya’s most sought after artists, Daniel Njoroge, are just a few of the many talents represented by the gallery. Stop by the Artz Gallery and have a friendly chat with the knowledgeable staff at hand, on any of the displayed art pieces.
Diani Beach Art Gallery
A fairly new addition to Kenya’s buzzing contemporary art scene and the first of its kind in the coastal region of the country, the Diani Beach Art Gallery has become a popular art attraction. Exhibiting a wide variety of fine contemporary African art, the gallery also serves as an exciting meeting space for artists and art enthusiasts alike, and holds regular events, art classes and special promotions. From oil and acrylic paintings, and mixed media compositions to photography and bronze, clay and wooden sculptures, the gallery spotlights an exquisite selection of artwork by Kenyan, Ugandan and South African artists, among others. Featuring a breezy earth-toned exhibition hall, well placed eye-catching art pieces, and a friendly ambiance, a visit to the Diani Gallery is truly a pleasure.
Lily Pond Arts Centre
Located in the market town of Nanyuki in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, the Lily Pond Arts Centre is a beautiful, serene art space with a lovely contemporary art gallery showcasing some of Africa’s best artists and promising young talents. Serving as a sort of springboard for young artists to launch their career, Lily Pond operates an ambitious artist-in-residence programme, thanks to which guests can discover and buy original artworks from some of the country’s up-and-coming artists. Interestingly, Lily Ponds Centre lies directly on the equator, providing a unique opportunity to be standing in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere at the same time – all the more reason to stop by this exceptional creative and recreational space.
The Little Art Gallery
Originally a virtual gallery selling African art online, the Little Art Gallery has held a number of exciting art exhibitions in partnership with other institutions in Nairobi, and has finally established a physical space in Kenya’s port city of Kisumu. With impressive spacious exhibition rooms, well lit and stylishly decorated, the new Little Art Gallery has certainly caused a stir in Kisumu where it is proudly the first formal visual arts gallery. Representing artists such as Alan Githuka, Michael Soi, Patrick Kinuthia and Denis Muraguri, the gallery is committed to cultivating a culture of art appreciation in contemporary Kenya and bringing exposure to local artists.