Pioneer Artists of East Africa

From left to right: Ancent Soi, Sanaa Gateja, Elkana Ongesa, Expedito Mwebe Kibulla, Jak Katarikawe, John Odochameny, Francis Nnaggenda, Lady Magdalene Odundo with son Marimba

Joseph Murumbi, the second Vice President of Kenya was Africa’s greatest cultural collector. He was an ardent supporter of the pioneer artists of East Africa, those artists who started their careers, against all odds, shortly after independence.


The pioneer artists who have stayed in East Africa did not fare so well including the brilliant sculptor Elkana Ongesa, the late artistic genius Expedito Mwebe, prolific metal artist John Odochameny, self trained artist Ancent Soi, “Africa’s Chagall” Jak Katarikawe, bead king Sanaa Gateja, and the Malindi-based Richard Onyango among others.

All of these artists have exhibited their works in the “Pioneer Gallery” inside the Old PC’s Office in the epicenter of Nairobi. Many of them have works on permanent display as part of the Murumbi African Heritage Collections at the Nairobi Gallery there. The Murumbi Trust has sought support from the American University in the USA, among others, to take the works of these aging artists on a travelling exhibition of the USA. This would be a marvelous way to give these artists the publicity they deserve as well as promote tourism to Kenya. (see sidebar: “Masterpieces of East African Artists”).

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