Circle Art Agency was established in 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya to provide the first professional arts advisory service to individual and corporate collectors and art institutions in East Africa. As one of the founding members, Danda Jaroljmek saw the need for creating a strong and sustainable art market for East African artists by supporting and promoting the most innovative artists in the region. With this in mind Circle Art Gallery opened its doors in 2015. It has been pivotal in creating a demand for East African art and here she tells us how this transpired in the short space of 3 years.
Q: What was the motivation to open the gallery in 2012?
A: In 2015, when we opened the gallery, we felt that there was no world-class ‘white cube’ gallery space in Nairobi, which is a big vibrant city. We wanted to create a space where people could learn about East African art, see excellent well curated exhibitions and become engaged in the East African art scene and where artists could see their work well presented.
Q: Since 2013 Circle has put together the region’s biggest annual art auction, which has been a huge contributing factor in putting East African artists on the global art map. Why do you believe this is so?
A: Absolutely, until we launched the auction there was virtually no secondary market in the region and many of the artists from the 60s – 90s were being forgotten. The auction has attracted Nairobi based collectors and the business community in Kenya that a gallery could not have done on its own and also brought in collectors of African art from across the continent and the diaspora. We now have clear proof of the interest and demand for East African artists and their investment potential and the Art Auction East Africa now runs independently.
Q: Is there a distinct thread that runs through the narrative of East African art and furthermore is there a point of difference with art from other regions of the continent?
A: No, I think artists nowadays live in a global world with access to information and technology and an artist in Kenya might find their work resonates with people anywhere in the world. The art scene in each country in the region is very different. Some countries have excellent art schools like Ethiopia and Khartoum and others like Kenya and Tanzania barely have art schools. Markets are stronger in Nairobi and Addis Ababa than in neighbouring countries so artists travel widely across the region to meet other artists and build a collector base.
Q: What has been your proudest moment since opening Circle Art Gallery?
A: It would have to be the opening night of the first exhibition in the gallery in 2015. Doing our first international art fair and realising we could hold our own alongside any other gallery was and still is a wonderful feeling. And of course watching the artists we work closely being invited to participate in biennales and museum shows around the world, that makes it all worthwhile.
Image Caption: Dickens Otieno, Conjoined with Emerging Reds (2018), Shredded aluminium cans woven into on wire mesh, 152 x 246 cm (approx.) . Courtesy of the artist and Circle Art Gallery.