Scroll to top

Studio Visit: Dickens Otieno

Dickens Otieno is a sculptor from Migori County in Western Kenya whose work was included in the Kenya Pavilion at the 59th Biennale di Venezia. He weaves recycled aluminium and laminated papers into wall hangings and pieces of clothing. Marlena Chybowska-Butler visited him in his home studio in Nairobi to explore his career history and work methods during her autumn 2022 secondment.
Like many of his peers in Kenya and in the region, Dickens Otieno possesses no formal training. Initially, he studied engineering and hoped to secure a position at a local sugar mill following graduation. When no was job was forthcoming, he moved to the capital in search of work and decided to pursue the interest in artmaking that he’d harboured since childhood. Getting together with a group of artists allowed him to explore different methods and materials. Experiments with the use of bottle tops and sisal sacks in collage mosaics led him to the recycled beverage containers that are his material of choice.
Otieno cuts the cans he obtains from recycling centres into thin strips and weaves them through forms made of wire mesh. The effect is a cloth-like patchwork into which the artist creates interpretations of everything from dresses and jackets to landscapes. His sculptures are most often hung on walls, including those of the studio he maintains at the GoDown Arts Centre in Kilimani, where he has worked since taking the decision to become an artist full-time in 2006.
A residency at the Nafasi Art Space in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2013 led to the show in Zanibar that raised Otieno’s profile on the East African artmaking landscape. A pair of Belgian collectors took notice and came to Kenya to learn more about Otieno’s methods. They took his work to Europe and staged a series of private showings and at art fairs, today representing him in Europe. That relationship led to Los Angeles-based gallerist Steve Turner taking him on and presenting his work at fairs in Miami and Chicago in the US.
Otieno takes a thematic approach to his artistic explorations, such as school uniforms that he perceives as symbols of identity. By weaving them into large patchworks, he makes art from the street scenes and landscapes that his works are meant to represent. At present, Otieno also enjoys representation by Circle Art, the Nairobi gallery that will show his work at the Dubai Art Fair in March, 2023. His sculpture has appeared in group shows in London, Paris, Lagos and Cape Town. And he has had residencies in Lamu, Kenya, and Perugia in Italy.

We use cookies to give you the best experience.