, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 27 – Michael Soi drives into the GoDown Centre, Nairobi at high speed. You would think he is trying to beat the 8 O’clock check-in deadline at an office. While walking, his steps are however different; he walks slower, more sure and confident, like a man woken by purpose does.
“Do you always get to work by 8 O’clock on the dot?” I ask him after we exchange pleasantries.
“I try to, sometimes much earlier. I wake up early, by latest 6. You can’t sleep all day when you are self-employed,” he says simply and I immediately like him.
Soi, a contemporary artist who lives off painting, has tattoos on his right hand and a distinctive piercing that can be seen protruding at the tip of his left ear. He is also bald with a good measure of beard.
At the GoDown Centre, Soi has two corner offices, one bearing mostly his finished works of art and another one that houses paints, painting brushes, a laptop, headphones and a packet of cigarettes among other things.
His paintings, which hang on the walls with some sitting on tables waiting completion, are not without a story.
According to Soi, the message behind a majority of his portraits mainly revolves on issues no Kenyan wants to discuss, such as one of his recent piece which is dubbed, ‘Nairobi Battle of the Socialites.’
“My work is basically a social commentary drawn from the inspiration I draw from the city of Nairobi. The ‘Nairobi Battle of the Socialites’ portrait is therefore just one of the portraits that illustrate the sad state of our social scene. Girls are now more than ever believing that their beauty lies on the size of their derriere; the bigger, the better it is for you,” Soi says.
He also depicts the state of sexuality, especially in Nairobi. Such include affairs between married men and young women, young women and white men among other facets of unconventional relationships.
“If you go out in Nairobi at night, you will see that these things are happening in Nairobi. Some young women openly prefer going out with white men because of money while others say that they are treated better by these men more than they are by Kenyan men.”
On the opposite side of the ‘Socialites’ portrait lies another distinctive one of a Chinese man surrounded by young women. According to Soi, the portrait is the last of the Chinese themed collection which has since sold out.
“I did an entire collection that depicted Africa’s relationship with China, dubbed ‘China Loves Africa’. It illustrated the relationship between the two and the social implication that are a result of the relationship.”