When it comes to Michael Soi’s bold paintings, don’t let the bright colors and cartoon-like characters fool you. Each one of the Nairobi-based artist’s pieces provides satirical commentary on contemporary social, economic and political trends in Kenya.
Soi depicts Kenyan society in his paintings to build a complete story of what his country experiences. Like any story, his paintings express both celebration and criticism – he believes in standing up for injustice but also has a benevolent, humorous view of life.
One of Michael’s most successful (and certainly controversial) series of work, Fat Cats, almost seems like an act of activism in itself. It addresses corruption, prostitution and bribery as an impediment to positive political and economic development in Kenya. But we must remember that Michael is an artist, not a politician; he wants people to be interested in art and have an emotional connection to his paintings. He wants his creations to be a part of the political commentary that is already occurring in Kenyan civil society and media.
In this painting, Michael sends those he finds responsible for the post-election violence in 2008 to The Hague for prosecution. Photo credit: http://africanworks.blogspot.com/
Although Michael uses his art to criticize aspects of Kenyan society, he truly loves his country and the city of Nairobi. Michael is currently working on a new series of paintings titled I Love Nairobi. His work may be coming to a gallery near you – he’s been selected for many group and solo exhibitions in Africa, Europe, the UK and the US.
I asked Michael some questions about his beginnings, his inspirations and his knack for stirring up controversy.
Hannah Elansary: When did you start painting and creating sculptures? How did it all begin?
Michael Soi: I began creating art from my childhood because my dad is also an artist. I took it seriously after high school when I went to art school and graduated in 1996 and officially began my career as an artist.
HE: What is the biggest inspiration for you work?
MS: My biggest inspiration is the city of Nairobi.
HE: Why is it personally important for you to paint about corruption and other struggles?
ME: Do work that revolves around corruption because it is a big problem in Kenya, which seems to have interfered with the development of this country. Impunity is how government deals with this issue making it very difficult- I dwell on issues that a lot of artists will choose not to address.
Read More: one.org