Maggie Otieno combines art and entrepreneurship garner public art projects

Sculptor -cum- entrepreneur-administrator Maggie Otieno and some of her art pieces. PHOTOS | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
Sculptor-cum-entrepreneur-administrator Maggie Otieno and some of her art pieces. PHOTOS | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Maggie Otieno is one of a kind.

She is both an artist whose sculptures are in high demand; and she’s an entrepreneur-administrator who’s so well organised that she’s now finding ways to ensure other artists have opportunities to express their own artistry.

Starting off as a painter in the early 1990s when she was still a student at the Creative Arts Centre, Ms Otieno quickly got converted to sculpture soon after she joined Kuona Trust just a few months after it opened at Nairobi National Museum in 1995.

“I was in a workshop led by [one of Kenya’s finest sculptors] Elijah Ogira,” she recalls. “The moment I picked up the carving knife it was like a lightning bolt that hit me. From that moment on, I’ve been committed to sculpting, whatever the medium.”

Ms Otieno mostly works in metals, which is the medium she’s currently using to create the public art pieces that will stand at the entrance of the new, but not-yet-completed Garden City Mall.

Winning the initial public art commission given out by the Mall, together with another outstanding Kenyan artist, Peterson Kamwathi, Maggie’s newest project is a dream-come-true.

“I have wanted to get involved with public art projects for the longest time, and now it’s happening, and I’m thrilled about it,” she said.

Yet she had put that dream on a back burner for several years. She was based at Kuona Trust briefly, but then opened her own studio, and began teaching fine art from there.

Not long after that, she went into arts administration, first with the online African art gallery, and then with the continental arts organisation, the Arterial Network.

She says she’s grateful for the skills she had to cultivate and sharpen while working administratively in the African arts. But she’s never forgotten that first and foremost, she identifies herself as an artist, not an administrator.

Nonetheless, with African Colours she got exposure to both regional artists and global patrons like the World Bank who put some of her art into a historic African Art exhibition in 2008.

And with Arterial Network, she realised the value and importance of having not only artistic skills but entrepreneurial acumen as well.

It’s the latter insight that has inspired Ms Otieno to recently resign from Arterial Network (although she is still on the Board of its Kenya chapter) and start up her own Motineo Designs Limited through which she not only creates new works of art but also runs a contemporary Kenyan arts shop in one of the chic new malls in Nairobi, the Galleria.

But the most important venture that she has gotten into, involving both art and entrepreneurship, is the company she launched several years back called the Artouch Project Ltd.

Artouch was inactive for years, but today it has become both the avenue through which she submitted the proposal that earned her the public art commission at Garden City Mall.

It’s also the vehicle through which she’s enabled fellow Kenyans like Kevin Oduor, Meshack Oiro, Jackie Karuti and Rose Mukabi to get signed on to work with Artouch to create several public art projects which are coming up all around Nairobi, especially at railway stations like the ones at Makadara, Imara Diama and Syokimau.