Soi and Ogonga after hours in Nairobi’s Gentleman’s Clubs
Posted Thursday, July 19 2012 at 17:48
If Thom Ogonga and Michael Soi were a comedy team, Ogonga would certainly be the ‘straight man’ and Soi the loose cannon pushing the socially acceptable limits.
But the two are not actors; they are visual artists who have been friends since the 1990s, when they began working at Kuona Trust, first as artists, then as staff.
Rarely do they do a show together but their current exhibition at OneOff Gallery seems fitting for them to jointly share their most recent work in an exhibition ironically entitled “The Gentleman’s Club’!
Both committed to visual storytelling with their palette, acrylic paints and canvas. They seemingly share similar subject matter in their art—namely, intimate relations between consenting adults seen in public spaces.
Yet beyond that basic theme, their work is strikingly different, both technically and content-wise. Ogonga has a talent for blending subtle hues and creating fine-lined elongated forms, while Soi works with ‘flat colour’ which he uses straight from the can.
One paints moody human beings, the other social commentary taking a broad cast of characters who he’s personally seen cavorting around Kenya in the night.
Reflection of daily life
Ogonga’s adults are apparently modest and fully clothed while Soi’s immodest characters seem to practice the mantra “less is more”—less clothing, less inhibitions and less shame associated with a public display of their sexual preferences!
Despite the differences, they have commonalities including saying they aren’t painting from their imagination but reflecting the day-to-day life in Nairobi’s local bars, hotels and strip clubs they confess to patronising occasionally.
“Kenyans are good at passing judgment on others,” says Soi who has gotten a bit of flak from pious church people who don’t approve of his night life scenes. “But I merely paint things I see.”
Soi says this side of Nairobi isn’t really a secret. But that doesn’t prevent his critics from calling his art decadent and disturbing.
His current work at OneOff is part of his latest body of provocative paintings, including uncensored scenes from Nairobi night life.
Soi’s previous works have been equally thought-provoking, unorthodox and some would say ‘outrageous witty’ and spot-on. One series (of 16) highlighted the ‘Hague Express’ and was surprisingly prescient in its foreshadowing the fate of the Ocampo Four many months before the ICC pressed charges.
Another was on one of Kenya’s most recent financial fiascos, that of the disappearing millions from the Free Primary Education Programme.
So anyone who’d dismiss Soi’s art as either frivolous or far-fetched needs to see his current show within the larger context of his complete works.