Danda Jaroljmek, director of Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi, was feeling the effects of art-fair fatigue when she first heard of Cromwell Place. “The fairs are excellent for meeting new people but they’re intense and it’s all about selling because you’ve paid such a lot of money to attend,” she says. “You don’t have the luxury of sitting down.” … Cromwell Place is a flexible, cost-effective solution to this problem. … For Jaroljmek, the chance to gain access to top dealers and collectors in London was too good to miss. But it’s important to her that there are enough like-minded galleries, both contemporary and non-western, in the mix too.
Founder of the Circle Art Agency in Nairobi, curator and ex-artist herself, Danda Jaroljmek is one of the most eminent figures in the East African art scene. We sat down with her to talk about her 20 years of experience in the visual arts in Kenya, from artistic organisations to the artists themselves.
“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.”
…the brainchild of Danda Jaroljmek, a passionate advocate of African art and graduate of London’s Chelsea College of Art … Her solution was to set up Circle Art Agency to identify work worth selling and bring it to market. ‘We found people who wanted to buy, but it’s a question of building an audience,’ says Jaroljmek.
Michael Soi is flecked with paint when I meet him at his studio, a high, rough-walled room in a converted warehouse in Nairobi’s industrial area. Stacked against walls and tables are his large acrylic on canvas paintings in flat, bright colours: buxom women with towering Afros, leering men in uniforms and suits, corrupt coppers, fat-cat politicians, pickpockets preying on bus queues … “The contemporary art scene in Kenya is inconceivable without Soi,” says Danda Jaroljmek, a director at Nairobi’s Circle Art Agency, which markets Kenyan art.
“In recent years the international art world has taken a keen interest in Africa as an investment opportunity; emerging financial markets are frequently followed by emerging art markets,” says Fiona Fox at Circle Art Agency, who helped set up the Tate’s Africa committee. Her Kenya-based agency hopes to hold the country’s first art auction later this year with a retrospective of the best Kenyan works from the past 30 years “to create a buzz” and “regulate” prices.