It was a world she found largely ignored in her new home, to her surprise. She began True African Art.com as a business minded way of beginning to redress that balance.
Based in Westchester County, New York, True African Art.com isn't a gallery in the conventional sense, (although, if you are in the NYC area, they will gladly arrange a viewing). It's an online portal to the work of artists who live and work in Africa. In Kenya, artists network to find opportunities, (the off-line version,) and word soon spread that she was looking for pieces to sell. They now sell the work of over 40 African artists, and maintain a small staff that work on site on the continent.
The Black art pieces you'll find range from traditional subject matter like figures in traditional dress or animals, painted with contemporary techniques, to less representational and more abstract treatments like Stephen Njenga's or Willie Wamuti's work. And, what begins as a marketing venture becomes an ongoing narrative. The website includes stories and videos of the African artists where they work. Many are self taught, and would otherwise have difficulty via the usual route of gallery representation.
The high cost and scarcity of painting materials is a problem faced by many artists in East Africa. "I had to give most of the artists featured on True African Art.com a deposit so they could afford new materials in order to paint their best," Gathinja says. Sales are often not consistent enough to sustain the artists and their families year round. Gathinja says, "When there was political violence in my country following the 2007 elections, tourists stopped visiting for a while and every aspect of Kenya was affected, including the art economy." It's getting a broader access to the art marketplace on a sustained basis that is her goal.
Gathinja calls her own work "a raw talent", even though she's been painting since the age of nine. Trained first in fashion design as a more practical alternative, she nonetheless found herself going back to painting.
Her pieces are rhythmic in their composition, inspired by her African culture and background and colored with a tropical palette. Many of her contemporary African artworks feature the figures of women as subject matter. "I tend to paint African women," she says, noting the women in her family who initially inspired her. "When I first came to America, I was surprised at the images of African women I saw (in the media) - they weren't the images of strong women that I knew, women who were happy to take care of their families, to work."
There's a large selection of work to check out on the website. It's a sure place to go if you need a little African art to warm and adorn your own living or working space.
Blog from Art and Culture Maven by Anya Wassenberg