The alleged theft of two oil paintings by a Kenyan artist whose work recently sold for more than one million shillings has turned attention to a crime usually associated with developed countries.
The Sunday Nation has pieced together the sequence of events surrounding the alleged theft of Sane Wadu’s two paintings – New York 9/11 and Shall we crucify him?
The paintings are said to have gone missing sometime after January 13, last year, when Ghanaian collector Osei Kofi, the managing director of Nairobi’s now-defunct Gallery Watatu, flew home to Geneva, Switzerland.
Mr Kofi is alleged to have left the two large paintings in the safe keeping of a Ms Peninah, the proprietor of a guest house near the Village Market mall in Gigiri, and then told Mr Wadu where the paintings were.
The arrangement was that Mr Kofi’s driver, Stephen Kimani, would deliver the paintings to Mr Wadu’s home in Naivasha or take them to Mr Wanyu Brush, Mr Wadu’s trusted friend who lives in Ngecha village in Limuru.
When the paintings were not delivered to either man, Mr Wadu says he called Mr Kimani periodically between February and November, last year and that the driver always assured him that the works would be delivered soon.
He says it was only in November when he finally offered to pay for petrol for the round trip from Nairobi to Naivasha that Mr Kimani told the veteran artist the paintings were lost.
Mr Wadu immediately went to Central Police Station in Nairobi where he was referred to the Gigiri Police Station under whose jurisdiction the guest house falls. Since then, officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations are said to be trying to locate the paintings.
Mr Wadu told the Sunday Nation that he took out newspaper advertisements asking for public support to find the paintings because he felt his case had stalled.
This move seems to have been met with some success because on Thursday, a day after the first advertisement appeared, Mr Wadu said the police called him to meet both Ms Peninah, the owner of the guest house, and Mr Kimani, Mr Kofi’s driver.
Ms Peninah recorded a statement at Gigiri Police Station in which she says the driver took the paintings from the guest house last August. She said she felt her promise to Mr Kofi to keep the paintings safely had been fulfilled until that point.
Mr Kimani admitted during questioning by police that he took the paintings from the guest house to his home in Ruiru for safekeeping. It was after that that the paintings are said to have disappeared in unclear circumstances.
At the meeting with detectives, Mr Wadu, who was accompanied by his wife Eunice and fellow artist Wanyu Brush, said the driver and the businesswoman maintained their innocence. Police investigations continue.
In the meantime, Mr Wadu said he hopes that if the paintings have been sold, the new owners will hear about the theft and return them to him.
The disappearance of the paintings could be a sign of the growing interest in Kenyan contemporary art, especially Wadu’s work, as well as the awareness that it is worth money.
An auction of Kenyan art last November organised by the Circle Art Agency made a record Sh18.5 million in sales.
Mr Wadu, a veteran of the Kenyan art scene who began selling his work through Gallery Watatu in the 1980s, did especially well. His six-panel “World Trade Centre” sold for Sh1.3 million.
Work by Adrian Nduma sold at a private sale in 2012 for Sh2.2 million, while a piece by Mr Brush (Mr Wadu’s mentor) sold for Sh2 million at Gallery Watatu in 2011.
While still very low by international standards, the prices of works by sought-after Kenyan artists like Sane Wadu continue to rise.