Kenya Art & Artifacts

The diversity of Kenya’s population is reflected in beautiful art and artifacts.

Kenya is a tourist destination, not just for wildlife and sun lovers but for art enthusiasts as well. A unique collection of books and art can be found at the world-famous Murumbi Gallery at the Kenya National Archives and a new gallery at the National Museums of Kenya. Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi, the man responsible for the collection, was the first Foreign Minister and second Vice President of Kenya. He and his wife, Sheila, were among Africa’s most famous art collectors. They were co-founders of African Heritage, Africa’s first Pan African Gallery, and Kenya’s African Heritage Festival, that traveled the world promoting Africa and Kenya. Joseph Murumbi’s priceless masterpieces have made Kenya a top destination for artists and art enthusiasts all over the world.

The most popular pieces of art include carved wood sculptures, gold and silver jewelry, tribal masks and figurines, musical instruments, hand-woven sisal baskets, Kikoys (African sarongs), batik cloth, prints, and Maasai beaded jewelry.

Music & Dance

Traditional music and dance was traditionally central in the social and religious lives of Kenyans.

Over time, Kenyan music has evolved through early Afro-jazz to African hip-hop, rap and dance music. Recent years have seen an increase in FM radio stations throughout urban Kenya, and now Kenyan artists are at the forefront of the Kenyan music scene.

Kenyan artists such as Nameless and Wahu have been nominated for the KORA Awards, the annual pan-African music awards that recognize outstanding musical talent.
Among the most successful Kenyan musicians is Eric Wainaina, whose music has received both local and international acclaim. He received theMNET (South Africa) award for favorite male vocalist in February 2001, and was one of the first Kenyans to receive an award for Best East African Artist at the 7th Annual KORA Awards in 2002. He is the only Kenyan artist to have performed live at the KORA ceremony. He was nominated for another KORA Award in 2003, and in 2005 he received his third KORA nomination, this time for the prestigious Artist of the Decade award.

Theatre & Literature

The Kenyan theatre scene is robust. In the city, plays are performed in English and Kiswahili to a full house at the Kenya National Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre and Alliance Française, among others.

The Kenya International Film Festival is an annual event during which film-makers from various East African countries put their work on display in the fall in Nairobi.
School drama is creative and competitive, culminating in the annual Kenya National Drama Festival, which brings together students from Kenya’s primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. Schools represented at the national level are winners in their provinces. The festival features plays, traditional dances, poetry, instrumentals and a host of other performing arts.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o, distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine, writes his novels only in Gĩkũyũ, a Kenyan language.

Ngugi, the greatest author to have come from East and Central Africa, was born in Kenya, in 1938. He originally wrote in English but now writes only in Gĩkũyũ. His work includes novels, plays, short stories, essays and scholarship, criticism and children’s literature. His most famous novels include Devil on the Cross, A Grain of Wheat, and I will Marry when I Want.

Ngugi lives in the United States where he has taught at Yale University for some years, and has since also taught at New York University.