15 August 2017

Kenya: The 'King of Pop' Lives On in Okoth's Paintings

Photo: East African
Leave Me Alone, a young Michael Jackson with dark skin and a broad nose stands with hands in his pocket and an abstracted look while outstretched hands reach out to him.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why Kenyan artist Oliver Okoth turns his favourite music into paintings.

"If the musician had a paint brush as opposed to his microphone, and the tunes were canvas art, how would it look?" asked Okoth.

His current collection, showing at the Nairobi National Museum, is an ode to the late "King of Pop" Michael Jackson.

He has reproduced historic photos of Michael as a boy, a man, and with the Jackson Five, each painting labelled with lyrics from his songs.

Okoth, 37, says he interprets the meaning of a song, and fills the canvas with his take on the words.

Black or White is a monotone portrait of Michael Jackson surrounded by a bevy of black female faces. It is paired with a similar image where the singer is surrounded by faces of white women.

ABC-123 is a portrait of the Jackson Five brothers sporting big collars and natural afros.

A hand holding a dark crystal ball with a reflection of the singer is Okoth's redefinition of the song, Man in the Mirror.

In Leave Me Alone, a young Michael Jackson with dark skin and a broad nose stands with hands in his pocket and an abstracted look while outstretched hands reach out to him.

In Slave to Rhythm, Okoth has overlaid monochrome pictures of Jackson dancing on a coloured image of ancient Egyptian deities and servants. Okoth is drawing attention to people's dependence on familiar and defined ways of life.

"Slavery has a rhythm and a routine like a dance, and we are bound to it," he said.

Okoth studied fine arts at Poona University in India. For most of his work, Okoth uses silk vinyl wall paint with acrylics for inserting details. To save on the cost of canvas, he paints on cotton bedsheets that are readily available at second-hand markets.

Okoth has captured a strong likeness of Michael Jackson and his siblings. The paintings are a nostalgic look back at a great musician. The exhibition will run until September 17.

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