The emirate remains a magnet for artists and collectors from Asia through to Africa. “It’s important for the gallery to look east across the Indian Ocean, rather than always to Europe or America,” said Danda Jaroljmek, founder of Nairobi’s Circle Art Gallery. Sales at her gallery have quadrupled since September thanks to collectors having spare time through lockdowns, she said.
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De fait, partout où un marché local s’est plus ou moins structuré, les galeries ont réussi à tirer leur épingle du jeu. « L’annulation des foires nous a privé d’importantes sources de revenus et surtout de networking, admet Danda Jaroljmek, directrice de la Circle Art Gallery, à Nairobi. Mais en nous recentrant sur les acheteurs kényans, on s’en est sorti. Finalement, 2020 fut meilleure que les huit années précédentes ! »
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“We’ve seen a big increase in local buyers and also interest from outside of Kenya.” Danda Jaroljmek says. “The gallery is regularly contacted by international collectors who want to know more about the African art scene and which artists they should be paying attention to. Artists we work with have been offered quite a lot of opportunities to show outside of Africa, and on top of that the artists themselves have been more active in looking for opportunities to show … “They see themselves not just pigeonholed as African artists, but as contemporary artists who want to be seen globally and are addressing issues that would be of interest anywhere in the world.”
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While crucial, it’s one of many. “I think the idea that there’s an African identity or there’s something African artists are addressing in particular is troublesome,” Danda Jarolmek, director of Circle Art Gallery, told me. “It doesn’t really exist.” The gallery represents artists from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan, five distinct countries in East Africa. “In some countries, all the artists have come out of the same art school. In some countries, there are no art schools.”
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“There isn’t much infrastructure yet, but the local art community is vibrant and the base of collector is rapidly growing” told Cfa Danda Jaroljmek, director and founder of Circle Art Agency, a Nairobi-based contemporary art gallery that represents artists from across the region – Uganda, Etiopia, Sudan and Tanzania. “Every year we organize an auction – she continues -, it helps to build up the local market and to create our own audience”. Among the main African contemporary art collectors she mentions Sindika Dokolo, but her gallery can count on supportive foreigner collectors too. “They are generally people with business interests in the area” says Jaroljmek.
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It’s a brave move for a dealer making her New York fair debut, in the Armory Showno less, to fill her booth with video art. After all, video demands more time from the already distracted collectors at this mega-fair and is generally a tougher sell. But Nairobi’s Circle Art Agency, in the Armory “Focus” section of galleries from Africa, has a confidence that comes from founder Danda Jaroljmek’s two decades in the world of African art—first with nonprofit organizations such as the Nairobi artists’ studio network Kuona Trust and then as an impresario of pop-up shows and auctions.
Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi, meanwhile, will bring a video installation with performance and photography by Ato Milinda, exploring lesbian, African and diaspora aesthetics, while Mariane Ibrahim Gallery from Seattle will show meticulous, dreamy drawings of fantastical realms by the Nigerian-born Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze.