Kenya’s Visual Arts Scene: Top Contemporary Artist on His Journey to Success

Nairobi – Kenya’s visual arts scene is buzzing like never before with locals appreciating African art. Before it was mainly expatriates and foreigners as the main consumers, but now the upper middle class is buying and collecting art. Artists are making a living off their work through a combination of entrepreneurial skills and pure talent. One such artist is Adrian Nduma, one of the most successful artists in Kenya who has been working professionally for the last 11 years. His work is featured at the main entrance of State House, the official residence of the President of Kenya and where President Kenyatta greets foreign leaders and other dignitaries. In 2015 Nduma sold a piece for around $29,000, the highest price for a painting bought in Kenya.

His journey begins in school, where even in his primary school days he had a passion for art. But because Nduma values education and recognizes the importance of it, he decided to go the more traditional route. He received a Bachelor’s of Education (with a focus on fine art) from Kenyatta University. Later, while working as a banker, he pursed an MBA from the University of Nairobi. He never finished his MBA though because, in 2005, he quit his banking job to become a full time painter. He opened his own gallery called Bonzo.

His work can be described as semiabstract with elements of realism, including wildlife and landscapes. He likes to use acrylics on canvas because he can achieve the same effects of both oil and watercolor paint. However, Nduma does not like to categorize himself. 

“My work can’t be characterized, categorizing means I am falling back. I am neither Impressionist nor Expressionist. I experiment and I apply myself to the spirit of the moment using all my techniques to get the message across,” says Nduma.

What he captures can be anything from scenery to even a dream he has had. He sees his work as being positive, vibrant and inspirational. Nduma is making an impact on the current visual arts scene with his latest project focused on electronic waste or e-waste. Nduma believes it is a real problem and the government lacks a strong policy to deal with it effectively.

“For me it’s a cause. I took it upon myself to come up with a way forward in regard to e-waste disposal. I use broken phones to create pieces of art,” he says. He recently had an exhibition at Nairobi National Museum titled “Digitized” where he had about 30 pieces of art using e-waste.

He has become an inspiration for young artists who want to follow in his footsteps. His message for the youth: “Take time to discover yourself. Take time to discover your talent. And once you discover that you have a talent, please go forth and do it without being scared.”

His model for success involves both business and talent. He took a lot of marketing, management and strategy classes. “To be a successful artist you have to have a business mind. You have to grow your talent. Don’t pigeonhole yourself, learn the business side, chose your own path, and expose yourself by continuing to learn and read,” Nduma says.

Nduma has his own private gallery called Bonzo where he not only supports the work of local artists, but regional ones as well. He showcases pieces from artists in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, and sometimes Ethiopia and Sudan. He will take any regional talent that he feels is addressing issues, whether artistic or social, important to this part of the continent.

Kenya’s art scene is growing and will continue to grow. What Nduma hopes to see in the next 20 years are empowered artists creating livelihoods supported by art. As acquisition of art by locals continues on an upward trajectory, the visual arts scene will be a more visible and vibrant sector of Kenya’s economy.

More from aKoma