NAIROBI, Kenya, July 10 – Wycliffe Ndwiga is one frustrated man.
Despite operating in a multimillion shilling industry, he is still living from hand to mouth, while his brokers smile all the way to the bank.
One cannot afford not to gaze at his artwork and this is evident when he visits Capital FM for this interview. I had to literary send away my colleagues to have ample time for the one-on-one conversation.
I get to know Ndwiga through my chairman Dr Chris Kirubi, who after being sent an image of his portrait by Ndwiga, thanks to social media, now, believes that “he is indeed the best fine artist in town, who by all means should not be hawking his work on the streets but a global brand.”
As he starts untying the ropes holding together his pieces, I am not even sure what to expect. I was given a tribute about him by my boss a day earlier but I don’t see the glow I anticipated. That’s when I realise, he has a story to tell.
“I remember one day I was hawking my pictures near one of galleries here in Nairobi, at my own risk because the owners did not allow it and one ‘mzungu’ woman (white woman) got the attention of a portrait I was holding and gaped at the drawing then looked at my face. She asked me almost three times if I was actually the one who had done the art work and after a lot of convincing she could not hold back her tears. She pitied me,” he recalls.
Over the years, Ndwiga and a majority of artists have been left in the hands of brokers who own multimillion shilling galleries.
The father of five says many have taken advantage of his problems and end up buying his work at a throw away price while they make thousands of dollars out of it.
“Before the year 2002, the government used to organise a lot of exhibitions for artists like myself but that is no more. Now it is survival for the fittest which has been so frustrating,” says Ndwiga who despite his challenges does not lack a smile on his face.
Some of his major art works includes an art piece of the 1998 bomb blast which was later sold to a Non-Governmental Organisation for raising funds.
“I remember they even used it in their logo for the campaign. It hurt me so bad because I did it for almost a whole month yet I got nothing,” he says, sadness reflecting on his face.
With 20 years of experience in fine art, Ndwiga is however optimistic that all is not lost. His biggest hurdle however, is how to get his name out there and find a way on how to protect his brand and get what he deserves from it.
“I am a professional artist and I have no doubt about that and as you can see my work is enough proof. Some of the work I have sold in the galleries is now in Europe, US, Africa and many countries but I am yet to make a profit. Sometime, my work is bought at Sh6,000 and sold for up to Sh100,000 a piece because they know we are desperate for money,” he laments.
Ndwiga is however not about to give up yet. He is ready to follow his passion and not only make money and provide for a better life for his family, but leave a legacy too.
He has now ventured into painting the images of leading personalities whom he then approaches to buy the portraits.
“I remember earlier this year I did a portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta and I took it to Meru when I heard he was going to launch development projects. I was so broke that even getting fare was a problem. My wife assisted me by washing clothes for people, to get the money. But I am glad the President was able to notice me when I raised the portrait of him and his wife Margaret Kenyatta. He called me and I told him my story. He has promise an appointment in State House. I hope he does not forget,” he says adding that he is the only personality who so far has paid for his work on the spot.
Ndwiga is now calling on the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture, to come up with strategies that will support artist adding that at the moment, the Ministry is more comedians, musicians and sports.