Soi: Outrageous artist with marketing talent

Nairobi Battle of the Socialites by Michael
Nairobi Battle of the Socialites by Michael Soi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Michael Soi is a master at marketing his art. It wasn’t too long ago that he was literally giving his art away, assisted of course by an arts-for-development fund run with support from The GoDown Arts Centre.

Today Michael’s art can sell for as little as Sh3,000 and as much as Sh100,000 and more. The Sh3,000 art pieces are essentially canvas shopping bags that he beautifies with his classic images of imaginary beauties who invariably have big Afro’s, big lips and striking expressions.

Michael has no problem selling them for so little since he sells them by the thousands and frequently posts on Facebook the proud shoppers who come all the way to his studio at the GoDown just to buy one of his bags.

His bags got a big boost when Lupita Nyong’o carried one and thanked Michael for the gift.

This past month Michael has been making hay all over Nairobi as he is practically as conspicuous a presence as is any Opposition politician. He’s had three separate exhibitions in August, the first at The GoDown where his paintings took over the entire gallery during the Nai Ni Who? Festival.

That show remained up even as the exclusive Circle Art Gallery gave him a solo exhibition for a week up until August 23. Seventy six per cent of the paintings that went on display sold during that single week.

So what is it about Soi’s artistry? First, he probably has the biggest name among Kenyan artists, rivalling only Peterson Kamwathi who is much better known internationally than locally.

Another reason for Soi’s stunning success, especially in terms of sales, is that he doesn’t price himself out of the reach of ordinary people who are learning to understand Kenyan art. He has painted everything from stories about football and political intrigues to Nairobi’s night life.

Last night, Michael again teamed up with Thom Ogonga to open in their second collection called Sex in the City II at the Alliance Francaise. Ogonga is far more low-key in his interpretation of Sex in the City. His black and white prints and paintings are subdued but stunning in their ability to evoke women’s sensuality.

Not everyone thinks Michael’s painting are amusing. Outrageous yes, but some people find his art scandalous and not fit for children to see.

But that doesn’t disturb the artist in the least. Indeed, he clearly enjoys being chastised in public and invites his critics to “bring it on”.