For Kota Otieno, the fabric of life has a literal meaning.
He incorporates wool, cotton, twisted cloths and twine in works that examine the warp and weft of our society.These mixed media constructions run parallel to two other strands of his art — sculptures made of scrap metal found on dumping grounds, and mixed media paintings on paper that combine disparate elements into coherent statements of how our past has grown seamlessly into the present.
Otieno then is superficially a part of that group which has risen above academic limitations to offer something imaginative, quirky and new. Yet while most focus on the limited — and limiting — subjects of village life, and their own dreamscapes, Otieno steps beyond those boundaries as a playwright dealing with the theatre of life.
Yet the comparison really is only superficial. For Otieno did receive some formal training, if not at the tertiary stage. He studied art and design at Homa Bay when it was still an examinable part of the Kenya school curriculum. After leaving school, Otieno moved to Nairobi to pursue his love for art and founded, with the artist Otieno Gomba, the Maasai Mbili Art Studio in Kibera; a space that supported more than 10 resident artists. Although Kota Otieno has moved on, to a studio on the outskirts of Nairobi, Maasai Mbili continues to thrive, home to among others the street savvy community painter Kevin Irungu.
Otieno first came to the public notice with his sculptures and wall hangings fashioned from tin cans hammered flat and stitched together with wire. They looked like landscapes seen from a plane, doing double duty as a view of the strange beauty presented by the patchwork roofs of Kibera slum.