Dickens Otieno

Dickens Otieno’s practice is driven by the search for meanings in objects and materials that are discarded and no longer useful. Working with left over aluminium cans gathered from local kiosks, bars, and marketplaces, he weaves large sculptural fabrics – comparing the cans to natural materials that have for generations been used for weaving like reeds and palm leaves or fabrics woven into clothing. His sculptural tapestries engage intimately with material, labour and the processes of making, imbuing value, and calling attention to the potential for beauty present in objects that would otherwise be dismissed and discarded. Otieno’s recent compositions approximate the urban landscape of Nairobi. To varying extents, he reduces, abstracts, and also deconstructs the lines and shapes visible in and around the city, producing compositions that are approximations of the city and current situations within the country.

Dickens Otieno is an artist concerned with the social and semiotic value of everyday objects. He works predominantly with found aluminium cans gathered from kiosks, bars, and markets from his hometown in Nairobi. Shredded and woven together, this discarded aluminium takes up a new life as a sculptural tapestry. The present Lot, entitled Anticlockwise, exemplifies the metamorphosis that occurs under Otieno’s hand. Executed in 2019, this metallic tapestry at once invokes imagery of cityscapes, mathematical diagrams, and various ceremonial textiles produced for centuries across Africa. His work can be interpreted an assemblage of objects imbued with the social life of his local community, or as a collection of discarded objects resurrected by the artist’s hand, who imbues the objects with novel cultural value. His work references local weaving traditions, which make use of naturally abundant materials like reeds and palm leaves to produce textiles with immense cultural, historical and spiritual significance. Otieno reifies the beauty already present in ordinary objects but builds on this to produce compositions with aesthetic and representational qualities as a collective object. His recent works take their formal inspiration from the urban landscape of Nairobi.

Otieno has featured in prominent group and solo exhibitions internationally. He most notably participated in the 2022 Venice Biennale, exhibiting recent work in the Kenyan Pavilion. Entitled Signs of Time (Cracks), his main contribution to the Kenyan Pavilion, sees the artist develop motifs and compositional themes which appear in the present lot: topographic tapestries referencing elements of the geography of his hometown. Where the latter is more akin to city plans and urban maps, the former references a tree from Otieno’s hometown; one which provided shade to a local marketplace. Despite similarities in the choice of colour between both works, Anticlockwise is exceedingly vibrant, showcasing the impressive range of colours and tones Otieno is able to unite within a singular composition.

Other recent exhibitions include: See Here, Old Neals Auction House, Nottingham, 2018; Africa/Africa, Total Arts Courtyard Gallery, Al Quoz, Dubai, 2018; Young Guns, Circle Art Gallery, Nairobi, 2017; The Third Dimension, Circle Art Gallery, 2016; UNI-FORM MULTI-FORM, Roots Contemporary, Nairobi, 2016; Paint and Metal, National Museum in Nairobi, 2016. His recent residencies include the Tilleard Artist Residency in Lamu, Kenya, and a 6-week fellowship in Italy at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation.

Works in the collection