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Touring Nairobi’s art scene – part 2

The GoDown Arts Centre was a place I’ve wanted to visit for ages but never went as I’d been put off by the location. Those words ‘industrial area’ had me recoiling, however, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at the venue just one minute after crossing the Nyayo Stadium roundabout and within 30 minutes from home.

Michael Soi Studio

The chance to see Michael Soi’s studio and shop was the main draw for me here, but there are loads of other artists workshops there too (around 30 artists are based at The GoDown), as well as a performance space and office space for various creative types. As we arrived, the sound of a live band practising rang out across the courtyard and the sun was shining. I went to the GoDown office to ask if we could look around and stumbled upon Michael Soi himself, who allowed my daughter to interview him, albeit with some jaded comments and gentle complaining.

“I normally avoid people like you if I can. So many people who I have never met are experts on my work. So many students ask to interview me about my work, yet I never see what they write, so this is kind of a waste of time for me.” Probably quite annoying, I agree, but we pressed and wasted his time nonetheless.

There was something energising about looking at his work in progress, huge canvases standing about in a bright space, with all of the edgy political messages or social commentary that each picture holds. He chatted about his daughter, and life, and disappointments mainly in the lack of public art funding in Kenya and difficulty accessing the right markets, but I thought – good for you. This is a pretty nice set up and you are doing what you love and it all means something and it might also contribute to change. Which is exciting. And useful.

(Obama’s dad told him the key to living a good life is: “Be useful, be kind” then Obama himself added “be fearless”. I like that.)

When I got to the studio shop, I had already made up my mind to buy something. I had initially thought of picking up a bag (à la Lupita Nyongo’s instagram account, which made his totes famous), but then felt that hand painted canvas bags and purses were a bit of a waste of his talent and the bag might soon wind up sitting in a cupboard, so I went for a reasonably priced/generic female heads on canvas instead.  (at 15k), which now sits above my computer and makes me smile every time I look at it. Oh and a pair of very well printed scatter cushion covers which now give our kitchen sofa a little extra pop.

Polka Dot Art Gallery.

Next stop the newish Polka Dot Art Gallery, to meet Patrick Kinuthia at the opening night of his exhibition. I actually bought one of his paintings before Christmas, so am already a fan of his immediate, impressionistic style, bright colours and ability to capture strong light. He’s a quiet, reserved man and this exhibition included coast paintings of Lamu and Malindi too – one stunning beach scene. I could just picture him standing on the beach with his large canvas, drawing from life as the tide was coming in. Again, I skulked in the background as the interview took place but Patrick Kinuthia was kind enough to say that my daughter had really good questions about the challenges of being an artist in Kenya today.

This week I start an evening art course at The Polka Dot Art Gallery. Need to go out and buy paper and charcoal. I haven’t done any drawing, painting or sketching for so long, so it’s bound to be an emotional roller coaster of an experience (joy and frustration). #excited.

  • Related Post: Touring Nairobi’s Art Scene – Part 1 – Banana Hill, Kuona Trust
  • Please read: My latest article in May’s issue of Nomad magazine! Woop Woop. A humour piece (back page). The trials and tribs of being a Travel & Lifestyle Blogger . Link here:  The Travel Blogger

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Touring Nairobi’s art scene – part 2


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