February 2, 2015

Straight from Nairobi: Michael Soi

Image: Michael Soi, 'Amina's white Christmas', acrylics, mixed media on canvas. 200x100cm

Through his work, Soi critiques immigration and emigration, social culture, development, politics and economics in contemporary Kenya.  He bravely ventures into taboo areas that many visual artists might shy away from: government and business corruption, commercial sex work, violence, and sexual tourism. Some characters, such as Omari, appear regularly in Soi’s work. Omari, sporting his trademark dreadlocks that are as thin and restless as he is, is ever hard at work cultivating intimate relationships as a way of "obtaining his visa" out of poverty and limited circumstances faced by many in Kenya, despite the potential and natural resources of the country. 

Soi's 'China Loves Africa' collection (2012-13) points a probing lens on Sino-African relations in Africa; specifically Kenya. The line of work interrogates China's intentions on the continent that the artist views as a "type of re-colonialization."   
The canvas served has a billboard when, for the second year in a row, Kenya's national pavilion at the Venice Biennale was curated by Paola Poponi and Sandro Orlandi Stagl  two Italians. Both years, the participating artists were largely Chinese. 'Shame in Venice 1' (2015) speaks to misrepresentation and fraud through the red, green, and black colors of the Kenyan flag captured in the attire of the pavilion full of Chinese artists. 

Soi’s work, inspired by his observations of everyday life in Nairobi, often depicts nightlife replete with ample Tusker Beer for everyone's enjoyment. His paintings are an ever expanding visual, satirical diary faithfully and humorously recording the challenges, pitfalls, and social relations influenced by the structural, political, cultural, and economic forces shaping life in present-day Kenya. 

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