Having Given it Little Thought

Michael Onsando
31 March ,2015

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 “I don’t think about it, I just draw what I see,” says Michael Soi. This is the response he gives me when I ask him about the position of women in his art. The room both before and after the statement seems the same. Wine is flowing in direct correlation to the intensity of the hum of several conversations and he still stands before me with a slightly smug smile. However it feels like I am in a completely different room. As if the world has suddenly shifted, on its axis, a direction or two. I wonder what is this ‘not thinking about it’

I wonder about what worlds it makes possible.

More importantly, I wonder what kind of thinking ‘not thinking’ propagates.

We know, because it is easily knowable, that our thoughts are shaped by the world around us. We also know that the world is cruel towards women. In this same line of thinking it is not a far stretch to know that in the work of not thinking there is a certain thinking that exists. The thinking created by the worlds around us. It’s even more critical when you thinking about the artist.

Michael Soi joined the Kuona trust in 1996 after studying fine arts in art school. He began wood sculpting, but quickly realized that that medium wasn’t relating the story he wanted to tell. – so in 1998 he went into painting, which he has been doing since then.

For someone who has been doing this for about 16 years Soi’s work is a little disappointing. In ‘the boy is mine’ series he takes us through a journey of one of his characters. When we meet the character(Omari) he has been caught by his black wife (I make this deduction from the baby on her back, she could be a girlfriend) cheating with a white woman. She is angry at the white woman.

At this point it is important to note that all the women are defined through the man. While I spoke to Michael he talked about Omari, his wife and his girlfriends. They are brought to existence only through the existence of the man, without him – they are not.

The second in the series has him trying to calm her down. The third has her carrying a panga ready to kill the white woman, who is now pregnant.

The black woman, throughout the series, is portrayed as the problem. She is the bearer of an issue and, in being the bearer she then herself becomes the issue. There is no question here as to male accountability. There is no question here about the white woman. The black woman in the series is always the problem. In fact, the last piece in the series stretches it as far as the black woman is crazy.

The black woman is crazy.

The crazy black woman.

Black women are crazy.

This is the thinking that this kind of work creates and propagates.

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.” Again, as if all a woman needs is food and money. Once providing this, a 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 we are deciding to keep the thought process that we were 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.

It is, as it should be, because in viewing a piece of art we try to find pieces of ourselves and of the world within them. In Art on My Mind bell hooks writes:

“… 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”

She wrote this while talking about conversations she had while viewing Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. While the entire piece does not resonate with Soi’s work, these words do. We talk about another place. This place we are taken to when we view art (and, indeed, when we listen to music, watch television and so forth). This is the place the artist has created. And, if the place created by the artist has not been thought through then, really, how is it different from the place where we are now? And, if it is not any different – what’s the point?

Q: Are you going to follow

in your father’s footsteps?

A: My father’s footsteps

lead to my mother’s bed

where I spent much of my childhood


why return where I have already been?

– Saul Williams, She

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