Ancent Soi: Kenyan arts legend will be celebrated for simplicity

Tuesday April 12 2022
"The Clinic" by Ancent Soi.

"The Clinic" by Ancent Soi. PHOTO | FILE


One of Kenya’s most celebrated artists Ancent Soi, passed away on March 23. He was 85 years old. Soi was among the first contemporary artists who emerged in the 1960s and was active for many decades.

Soi grew up in Machakos County. As a youth, he attended sales courses at a Nairobi college, where he was a top student.

He also worked as a fruit vendor in City Market in the centre of Nairobi. Along with fresh produce, he sold paintings and woodcarvings made by others. This was when he started painting, teaching himself further skills in addition to the few art classes he had taken while at school in Machakos.

He was noticed by Gallery Watatu, and over the years, it exhibited his works regularly. So did the French Cultural Centre, Goethe Institute, Kuona Trust, RaMoMa Arts Museum and the African Heritage Gallery, which was co-founded by Kenya’s second vice president Joseph Murumbi.

His art was shown in the UK, US, Germany and Japan.

Soi started off painting in watercolours, but switched to oils on canvas. His paintings centred around people, communities, traditional life, nature and folktales from his childhood.


He won a competition for African artists invited to design a poster for the 1972 Olympic games. He almost did not receive the prize due to a mix up in the names, but eventually travelled to Munich to collect the gold medal.

His work remained popular with collectors long after his active years. Soi is quoted as saying of his work that he paints for himself, and that “if other people like them, I am flattered but it is not very important”.

Soi leaves behind a son, Michael, also a Kenyan artist.