Michael Soi was hard at work in his Nairobi studio, speckled in acrylic paints, when four unidentified Chinese men and women walked in, demanding to see some paintings. It was July 2015, and Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting Kenya.
Soi’s visitors didn’t wait for him to respond. They moved around the studio, shifting cans of paint, canvases, stacks of art pieces, making a mess in their search. The collection they were looking for is one Soi calls “China ‘Loves’ Africa.” Here, in bold hues of pink and green, he paints Chinese men staring lecherously at a nude black woman, hair braided, dancing on a pole. In one piece, a Chinese man is bedridden, hooked up to IVs containing “gold,” “titanium” and “copper.” A Black male doctor administers his treatment.
The Chinese visitors didn’t find the paintings funny. They claimed Soi had been influenced by the West and that China was only in Africa to “help” by building bridges and hospitals in his home country, Kenya. Soi invited the group to get out of his studio.
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