Having Given it No Thought
By Michael Onsando
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
– Anais Nin
It was 1961 when Anais Nin gave us these words. The Seduction of the Minotaur shows a strong sense of psychoanalysis. It talks about how Lillian studies herself and her actions. Artist Michael Soi, on the other hand, doesn’t seem interested in any form of self analysis. “I don’t think about it, I just draw what I see.” This is the response he gives when asked about the problematic depiction of women in his paintings shown during Sex and the City at the Alliance Francaise, Nairobi.
Wine was flowing in direct correlation to the intensity of the hum of several conversations and there Soi stood, with a slightly smug smile. It seemed the world had suddenly shifted, on its axis, towards this concept of ‘not thinking about it’.
What kind of thinking does not thinking propagate?
We know that our thoughts are shaped by the world around us. We also know that the world is cruel towards women. Thus, in ‘not thinking’ there is inevitably some kind of thought process. It is even more critical with regards to political artist like Soi.
Who is Soi?
Michael Soi joined the Kuona Trust in 1996 after studying fine arts. He began wood sculpting, but quickly realized that the medium didn’t relate the stories he wanted to tell. In 1998 he started painting. Throughout the years he continues to define women through a man. When Soi talked about one of the characters in his work, Omari, he shows how the figure of a wife or girlfriend is always brought to existence only through the presence of a man.
The black woman, throughout the series, is portrayed as the problem. She is the bearer of an issue; in being the bearer she then herself becomes the issue. There is no question here as to male accountability or the stereotyped role of a white woman. In fact, the series stretches as far as to conclude:
1. The black woman is crazy.
2. Look at the crazy black woman.
3. Black women are crazy.
Michael himself has talked about this character, “She gets violent whenever he goes to town and hooks up with a mzungu chick, leaving nothing to eat at home.” As if all a woman needs is food and money. This results in the notion that once these things are provided the man is not accountable for any of his actions.
Art needs to be deliberate
The problem with Soi’s claim to not think about his work is that in not thinking he is thinking. In not thinking he perpetuates thoughts process that taught earlier in life. And, often, this thinking is flawed, wrong and cruel. The work of the artist is not just to depict, but to create a world.
“Many of the works that art canonically labeled great are simply those that lingered longest in individual memory. And that they lingered because, while looking at them, someone was moved, touched, taken to another place, momentarily born again”
Michael Onsando is a writer, poet and art critic based in Nairobi Kenya. This is his first contribution to Start Journal.