Multi-tasking artist carves path to entrepreneurship

Maggie Otieno working on her latest sculpture.
Maggie Otieno working on her latest sculpture. PHOTO | ERIC GITONGA 

Maggie Otieno did not become one of Kenya’s leading artist and art entrepreneurs overnight. She has taken her time, first to figure out what specifically she wanted to do artistically, given that her studies at the Creative Arts Centre had made her an all-rounder and primarily a painter.

It was after she had joined a sculpture workshop with Elijah Ogira at Kuona Trust that she finally knew her special field was sculpting. She would eventually work in everything from wood, fibre glass, scrap and sheet metal; the latter materials can be seen standing at the entrance of Garden City Mall where her eight metal “Gatekeepers” welcome shoppers and guests to the leading Thika Road mall.

Another key to Maggie’s success is working together with other artists, first at CAC, then when she, with several of her fellow students, rented a studio together, and finally at Kuona Trust which she joined soon after it opened in the late 1990s.

She’s been staying close to the burgeoning Kenyan art community ever since, both by working side by side with artists at Kuonand through the professional fine arts agency that she founded a few years back and which has enabled her to commission other artists to assist her in completing various commissioned work that she’s been given.

That’s what Maggie has been doing ever since she launched ArtTouch back in 2007. Initially, she did smaller jobs like creating sculptures for people’s private gardens. But then in 2013, she got her first major commission with the Kenya Railways.

Her company was to beautify several railway stations either with monumental sculptures or murals, which she’s done with a little help from some of her artist friends, including Kevin Oduor, David Mwaniki, Jackie Karuti, Meshak Oiro, Rose Ahono and Alex Njoroge, among others.

To date, Maggie’s most prestigious commission came from Garden City where her “Gate Keepers” stand near the other artwork commissioned by the mall. Both she and Peterson Kamwathi had submitted sketches of the artwork they’d proposed to create for the upmarket mall.

Mastery of arts administration

So did a number of other Kenyan artists but the two designed by Maggie and Kamwathi were the ones chosen to make their sketches into authentic, show-stopping works of art.

But there’s one other key to Maggie’s success and that is her mastery of arts administration. It’s the less glamorous side of the local art world but it’s required her to keep updated on all that’s been happening primarily in the visual arts field.

That’s what she did at the online art centre, African Colours, where she worked with Andrew Njoroge and had opportunities to travel all around the African region looking at how other sub-regional art worlds were faring.

She did something similar for the Arterial Network where she kept AN’s home office in South Africa updated on the whole East African arts field. And now through ArtTouch, she’s becoming a major player in the regional art field herself.

Maggie got her start working exclusively with Kenyan women on a group project conceived by the Kitengela Glass founder—artist Nani Croze. It was a giant sculpture of Mama Africa which a number of women worked on.

And since then she’s invited women artists like Jackie Karuti, Florence Wangui, Rosemary Ahono and Diana Achieng to work on some of her ArtTouch projects, such as the giant wall mural commissioned at the Imara Daima railway station.

She just completed her latest commission, another sculpture for a private garden. But it was a challenge to complete the work on time since she also serves on the Kuona Trust board which has been busy this month as various VIPs have been visiting and she’s played a part in showing them around Nairobi’s vibrant arts community.

Maggie’s a multi-tasker, even as we find most women are, and she is also a mother of two. The big difference between her and other women is that her first passion is her art.

It’s also keeping track of the art market which is one reason why she now has an art and craft shop of her own at the Galleria Mall on Lang’ata Road.