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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

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