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.
Could you tell us about your first encounter with visual arts in Kenya?
I settled in Kenya in the late 90s after graduating with a master’s in Arts in Chelsea, London. I worked for a non-profit organization called Triangle Network which was connected to Gasworks gallery in London. My job was invigorating and allowed me to travel all over Africa meeting contemporary artists. My mission was to help artists meet and share skills. Over 13 different countries, we built a powerful network, organizing workshops and residencies in places very little support and infrastructure for artists.
You finally founded your own agency specializing in Eastern African Art, could you tell us more about the vocation of the Circle agency?
In 2000, I left Kuona Trust to create the Circle Art Agency in Nairobi as I felt I knew where the gaps were. The vocation of the agency was to support artist’s careers and build local audiences. The real strength of the Circle Art Agency was being able to offer professional guidance in curation and selection of artists. After 7 years, we now hold around 8 exhibitions per year, 2 auctions, and up to 6 international Art Fairs, such as 1.54 in London or New York and ArtX Lagos.
Do you meet many local collectors or is African Art mostly collected by international collectors?
The interest in collecting art is still quite new in Eastern Africa and this is a slow process. Even in Nairobi, the cultural capital of the region, there is no art school, no art museums or institutions to exhibit visual arts, and little documentation on East African art. To build a community of local collectors, you need to create an environment where people can learn, and this is what I’m trying to build in Nairobi with the Circle Art Gallery. We have an ever increasing community of local collectors who visit our exhibitions and purchase art at our auctions, but we also have a great group of international collectors of African art that buy at the art fairs or online.
What are your favorite projects to come?
As with most art organizations, the Circle Art Agency has been impacted by the Covid crisis and this has altered the way we re currently working. We are increasing our online presence and finding new ways to engage our audience. We are focusing on producing short videos of our artists in their studio to give the public an idea of their creative process. The most exciting event to come is our 8th East African Art Auction that will take place on the 21st of October in Nairobi, enabling online bidding for the first time!
By Marion Sailhen