The start of a new year seems to always evoke a need for retrospection; to take stock, reflect and evaluate the past 12 months and how it has shaped and impacted us.
As it pertains to contemporary art, in the aftermath of the worse of Covid-19, 2022 offered not only a return to some sense of normality, e.g. the return of physical art shows and fairs, but also a palpable optimism and buoyancy, as a sweeping demand and appetite for emerging artists from previously overlooked markets took the art industry by storm.
Of course, it is no secret that contemporary African art is one such market that has reaped the benefit of 2022’s resurgence. Mainstay artists and masters in their field such as Amoako Boafo, Aboudia, and Oluwole Omofemi, continued to dominate at the auction houses, and their respective gallery and institutional shows. However, amidst the list of stars that we have come to know and celebrate, is one that has been shining just as bright, albeit at a distance and only recognized by the most discerning and experienced of eyes.
Kaloki Nyamai’s rise to contemporary art royalty, and as a formidable challenger to the throne, has been a few years in the making. From international art residencies, acclaimed solo exhibitions, to triennales and biennales, Kaloki’s decorated CV reads like a Hemmingway epic, littered with travel and adventure only few artists could possibly dream of, let alone live out.
Despite this, 2022 was the year that the unassuming yet charming artist truly broke out and forced the art world to look up and pay close attention – from his critically acclaimed debut at the 59th Venice Biennale to ending the year on a dizzy high at Miami Art Basel.
I had the pleasure of briefly catching up with one of Kenya’s, and indeed the African continent’s, leading artists, whilst he was in Nairobi overseeing the construction of his new artist studio and residency.
RD: Kaloki, it is fair to say you have had nothing short of a stellar year. It seems that absolutely everything that could have gone right did for you, and the stars aligned perfectly in your favor. Before entering 2022, could you have imagined the year you were about to have?
KN: I had an idea but it was beyond what I expected.
RD: That’s impressive that you anticipated, or rather manifested your recent accomplishments. With 2022 now out of the way and key milestones achieved, what can we expect from you this year, and what is your next major goal?
KN: Expect a huge show in America and Europe. Hopefully more placements in museum collections too.
RD: I’d like to talk about your work a bit, as it has achieved such strong resonance and universal appeal despite it being rooted in your own personal experience. Your work appears to speak to and explore themes of kinship, intimacy and companionship.
Why did you choose to unpack these narratives, and what contribution as an international artist would you most want to be recognized and remembered for?
KN: These narratives are a burden and responsibility, as I have to explore more about our culture and lineage, as well as the responsibilities that we have as brothers, sisters and parents in our community. I would like to be remembered for being an artist (who) empowered his community through the art he created.
RD: That’s brilliant. Beyond your own creative output, as we speak you are overseeing a new yet different sort of project, and I recently discovered you have a fondness of working with children and supporting fellow artists; can you share what you are working on at the moment to this end?
KN: I am building an art residency that will bring cultural exchange and dialogue from artists of different spaces to artists in Kenya through sharing. More so, I am including and highlighting young artists in this. I am also building a library dedicated to art. This will help children, young people, artists, and institutions have access to art books for research and learning and a creative space for expression.
RD: That sounds incredibly encouraging and fulfilling. Kudos and best of luck with it all! In recent years you have become somewhat of a darling of European collectors, however your star is beginning to rise and shine bright across the pond in the states also. You have shown to rave reviews in New York, Dallas, LA and in Miami; if you had to choose, where would you love to show again?
KN: I would love to show again in L.A and at the moment I am working towards having a solo there in 2023.
RD: Well, LA is definitely famous for being the home of the stars, and if 2022 is anything to go by, you’d certainly be welcomed with open arms there! Thank you so much for your time, I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year unfolds for you. Well played.