Nairobi Gallery pays homage to the late Murumbi, Kenya’s second VP
In the heart of Nairobi, at the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway, right next to Nyayo House, sits a Victorian-style building that houses the Nairobi Gallery.
Designed by the government architect at the time, C. Rand Ovary, it was built in 1913 for the then Ministry of Native Affairs. It served as the colonial government’s office for recording births, marriages and deaths. Because of this, it was fondly referred to as “Hatches, Matches and Dispatches” by the settler community.
It also served as a colonial courthouse and cell where Africans in Nairobi without passes were tried and jailed.
Apart from its architecture, which stands out from the modern buildings around it, the location of the Nairobi Gallery is unlike that of any other building in the country. This is because it was built at Kenya’s “Point Zero”, the place from which all the distances across the country were measured.
After Kenya’s independence in 1963, it housed the office of Nairobi’s first Provisional Commissioner until 1984, and after that as Kanu’s Nairobi branch office until 1997.
When officials realised the building’s important role in Kenya’s history, it was gazetted as a national monument in 1993 and officially declared a national monument in 1995.
Following the declaration, the building was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya in 1997 for preservation, and the agency began renovating it in 1999. The work was completed in 2005 and the Nairobi Gallery opened its doors to the public.
The first art exhibition here, the same year, was by Ugandan artist Jack Katarikawe. Until 2013, it served solely as an exhibition centre for artists. But in the same year Joseph Murumbi’s private collection was brought to the gallery for exhibition.
Murumbi was the minister for Foreign Affairs from 1964 to 1966, and the vice-president for a few months in 1966. With its six rooms, Murumbi’s extensive private collection, ranging from African textiles, jewellery and ancient books that have gone out of print to artefacts collected from all over Africa, are displayed.
Of its six rooms, one has been dedicated as exhibition space for artists and another for children’s’ art activities.
According to the gallery’s curator Rhoda Lange, the site does not get many visitors, as most Kenyans are not aware of its importance in Kenya’s history.