Michael Soi is a specialist in creating art that arrests, arouses and occasionally annoys. He’s been consistent in this regard. He’s annoyed everyone from fundamentalist Christians who tried to censor his Sex in the City which he shared with Thom Ogonga and John Kamicha at Alliance Francaise a few years back.
He upset the Chinese with his marvelous graphic series called China Loves Africa. They were so upset they sent embassy men to his studio at The GoDown where Michael says they essentially sought to intimidate him to stop satirising their role in the region, especially their relationships with African women.
But Mr Soi is not easily intimidated. On the contrary, one only needs to see his current exhibition at Circle Art Gallery entitled Motherboard to know his art might scandalise some people. But be assured, he doesn’t mind. In fact, he clearly enjoys creating witty art that illustrates his current train of thought, be it sports, politics, Nairobi night life or bodies beautiful.
He’s especially good at satirising hypocrites and hustlers, be they guys who frequent ‘red light’ zones or boys who pick up girls who get them visas to go overseas.
But if Mr Soi scandalizes some, he has many more fans who love his art. So much so that those who may not afford his paintings on stretched canvas are happy just to buy a canvas bag with a pretty face on it painted by Mr Soi.
His current show at Circle Art is, nonetheless a dramatic departure for him. And not just because he paints whole walls of the gallery with his intricate labyrinthine designs into which he inserts whole continents.
It’s the other surfaces that Mr Soi paints on that might well raise eyebrows. But again, that’s in part the idea of his art. “I put a notice on Facebook asking for 10 women who wouldn’t mind modelling topless,” said Mr Soi on opening night of his Motherboard show.
“I got over 390 offers with a few even offering to pay me for my painting them,” he added, amused by the overwhelming response.
Mr Soi’s challenge was to paint on human skins, specifically on mainly women’s chests, shoulders, arms and backs. It’s true there are two images of a man ‘boxing’ with both his arms covered in the same maze-like designs that he paints on women’s breasts. But for some reason, the man is the only one in this show who covers his chest. All the women (who remain anonymous) are technically topless, although they’re carefully painted as if ‘dressed up’ in Soi’s acrylic attire.
From an aesthetic perspective, Mr Soi’s women (especially their breasts) come across as beautiful objects. But as is invariably the case, his art may upset some people, especially feminists and fundamentalists.
As for me, his art never fails to amuse me since I appreciate the way he dares to break the bonds of status quo propriety.