Art as Business: Lessons from the Godfather of Kenyan Art

In 2017 Kenya’s Economic survey report documented that the Kenyan creative economy which comprises of art, crafts, music, fashion, radio, television, video games, performing arts and publishing had employed an estimated 70,000 Kenyans and is currently worth more than Ksh. 200 billion.

One Kenyan artist who has a large following among both international and local art lovers is Patrick Mukabi also known as Baba Supaa and Panye. An artist with a huge heart, Mukabi is not your typical visual artist. He is an art teacher with his youngest student being three years old and his oldest being 79 years old. He teaches in Kenya and European countries such as Denmark. Described as the godfather of Kenyan art, a sit down with Patrick Mukabi at his privately-run Dust depo studio located at the Railway Museum offers insights on creating art and the business of art.

Painting by one of Mukabi's brilliant young students

Born on 9th October 1969 into a Catholic family, he grew up surrounded by paintings familiar in the Catholic cathedrals, and Michele Angelo’s paintings greatly inspired him.   Mukabi began his formal art education in 1988. After completing a one year course in Basic Illustration at the Creative Art Center, he did a two-year Graphic Design certificate course at the Kenya Polytechnic in Nairobi, Kenya. He took part in his first group exhibition in 1994 and the following year he won the Best New Artist award at the East African Industries Annual Exhibition. 

His works depict ordinary Nairobi women wearing Kanga and beaming luxuriously. “When I began sketching, the women in my neighbourhood didn’t like the idea of being a painting subject, so I had to sketch when they were not looking. Now you know why most of my art pieces rarely show women’s faces.” He explains. According to the artist, women are the fabric of the African society and women’s accomplishment is a barometer of our collective achievement as a society.

Art works on the wall of Dust Depo Studio

A conscious artist, he took a different path of art creation after the gruesome post-election violence that took place in 2007. After the dark, gruesome and horrific event that took place in Kenya after the country's elections, he took scrap iron sheets from destroyed businesses and houses to create art pieces that express sympathy and solidarity with the unfortunate victims.

Marking more than 20 years as a visual artist, Mukabi suggests that young and emerging artists need to know;

  • Creative individuals can earn from art.
  • Surround yourself with individuals who inspire you.
  • Take every experience and interaction as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Always educate yourself on the trends within your niche.
  • Learn your audience and market.
  • Balance the real world and the dream world.
  • There will be someone who will like and buy your work, so, create.
  • After creating take time to be a salesperson and market your work.
Mentees working on their own art pieces at Dust Depo Studio

Mukabi, a source of inspiration for young creatives across the continent, has mentored young and emerging artists including Alex Mbevo, Nadia Wamunyu and Dickson Kaloki. His art pieces are exhibited in Java Coffeehouse across the country, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and around the world.  Panye, a self-less artist, teacher and mentor is a source of inspiration for young creatives across the continent. He truly is the godfather of Kenyan art.

Photo credit Marie Ainomugisha 

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