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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Soly Cissé

Soly, as many of you will know, is one of Senegal's most successful and prolific artists - he paints with gusto - and I believe some of his work is truly inspired. It has that sense of the mystical and there is a vigour about the work and the man that is exciting.

Here are some very strong works from a series that he has only just produced - they are all 80 x 80cm acrylic and pastel on canvas.

email me quickly if you are interested by them as his work is in demand.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Life Imitating Art: Michael Soi, the ICC and the "Ocampo Six"

Michael Soi | Hague Express No 5.| 77cm by 65 cm| 2011
Since April 2008 , Nairobi artist, Michael Soi, has been producing a series of paintings entitled Hague Express celebrating the hoped for departure from Kenya of those (to be) indicted by the ICC over their role in the 2007/8 post election violence which claimed 1220 lives, uprooted whole communities and lead Kenya to the brink of civil war. Today (April 5th 2011) Kenya witnessed the fulfillment of Soi's prophetic vision as some of the accused flew out of Nairobi on a KLM flight to Holland - all six accused will soon be at the International Criminal Court. In a poll from the Kenya's Daily Nation published today 61% of those polled approved of these prominent men being hauled out of the country to face justice in Europe. Real justice at home would be better but this development is viewed as a massive step in the battle against what is now viewed by many as the the biggest evil of them all - impunity.
Michael Soi | City in The Sun | 122 x 183cm | 2011
Michael Soi's wish for justice is shared by almost all Kenyans, and he was not alone in producing politically charged work in the early part of 2008 whilst his country teetered on the brink and his countrymen were slaughtered by incentivised mobs. But he was possibly unique in painting his vision of a desirable outcome and faithfully continuing this until - almost miraculously - Messrs Ruto, Kenyatta et al, were forced to head to the Hague (with expensive government lawyers in tow) this week. Soi is understandably proud and pleased that Sr Ocampo himself is the owner of painting No 4 in the series.

Soi is something of an amiable giant -ruled by an irrepressible sense of humour and a satirical but benevolent view of life. He is all artist and no politician - but he like many other Kenyan artists are profoundly concerned about standing up against injustice.

The visual arts in Kenya are still a minority interest - there is no National Gallery, the National Museum leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to contemporary art - but artist groups like Kuona Trust , where Soi has his studio, have flourished and little by little contemporary artists are leaving their mark on the national consciousness through exposure via newspaper reviews probably more than anything else. Kenya's cartoonists - Gado being the most famous - have for years flown the flag of cheeky defiance - even during the dark days of the Moi regime. Soy who is an artist - not a cartoonist - is nevertheless an inheritor of that brave and humorous tradition. His work is Hogarthian in its rollicking satirical portrayal of everyday hypocrisy and farce. His characters engage you in a way that is uniquely Kenyan. And he has developed an economical and powerful visual language that will ensure him an important place in the country's art history. They used to say that all the important art came from West Africa - well that was not true then and it certainly isn't now.

Works from a new series about working women by Michael Soi

For further information about works by Michael Soi contact me by email

Ed Cross 4th April 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sekano's Women

Charles Sekano Princessly Mixed Media on Paper 76 x 50cm

Charles Sekano Looking Back Mixed Media on Paper 76 x 50cm

Given the scarcity of art schools across much of the African continent it is not surprising that many of this continent's finest artists are "self taught", but whilst many artists like Richard Onyango and Jak Katarikawe are musicians (Eduard Saidi Tingatinga from Tanzania started out as a Makonde dancer) it is relatively rare to find a man who invented himself as both painter, poet and pianist. Such a man is the South African (former exile) artist - Charles Sekano. Thirty years of his life was spent in Kenya (from the 60s – 90s) escaping the poison of apartheid. His bold and passionate use of colour - a one man crusade against any kind of colour bar.

An uneasy relationship with publicity, which as his gallerist I have just frustratingly experienced at first hand, has contributed to his being more of an artist's artist, though he is a legend to many with a serious interest in East African art. He has unapologetically existed in the shadows, like so many of the subjects of his paintings. There is frequently a romantic longing within artists for their work to remain purely personal unsullied by the often crass categorisation of the public. I know this from my own work as an artist. Sekano has achieved fame – his work is to be found in New York as well as Nairobi, and in important museum collections in the States but now approaching seventy he remains the rebel – always at his happiest playing his piano in a darkened nightclub.

One of the visitors to my current show of Sekano's work commented "you can tell the works were done for himself alone" and it's true there is no sense of anything else but the artist and his immortalised subject - often a beautiful young woman in the unforgiving urban African night. Sekano's women are not sentimentalised or even romanticised they portray a stubborn range of human emotion from nostalgia to sulkiness, to maternal instinct to narcissism to pride, ambivalence, coyness and sadness - all depicted with cryptic precision.

View a catalogue of the exhibition

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peterson Kamwathi

Peterson Kamwathi Untitled Digital Print 650mm x 480mm

This remarkable print by the Kenyan artist, Peterson Kamwathi whom I work with in London, was born of a collaboration with the Kenyan poet Shailja Patel for the South African based project Dialogue Among Civilizations The Art of Human Rights you can read Shailja's poem What we want on this link.

I think Kamwathi's print makes its point with economy and subtlety, demonstrating the strength, beauty and vulnerability of human communities.

There is a very illuminating London article/interview with Kamwathi by Karen Dabrowska which gives a real sense of both the man and his work.

Peterson Kamwathi explaining Kenya through woodcut prints and icons

and we produced a full catalogue of the artist's last show in London with an essay by the SOAS art historian, Elsbeth Court, and an interview with fellow artist Sam Hopkins together with images and details of all the works in the show. Do check it out...

...Matter of Record... Catalogue