Against all odds: Dan Oketch

Imagine losing the freedom to not only do what earns your coins, but also what keeps you level-headed… That’s what happened to Dan Oketch nearly year ago. How he lost that freedom is nowhere near the start of his artistic journey neither is it its end, but it definitely fueled his career as an artist.

Back when Supa Strikas was the -it- comic,  and his age mates were fascinated by the football prowess of ‘the world’s best striker- Shakes Makena- and his teammates, Dan was mostly captivated by the remarkable illustration of the comic; so much that he started drawing the characters. He was in class 3, and that’s when he started exploring and practicing art.

He continued drawing comic characters till he was in class 6 when a friend introduced him to Maono Cultural Group in Dandora- an organization that nurtured those with talents like his. Here, he learned the basics of drawing. Circa 2009, he moved on to GoDown Arts Centre– a bigger arts hub. To him, it was “a new world of creativity”.

Here, he met Patrick Mukabi, who would end up becoming his mentor. On days when Dan couldn’t afford the fare to go to the studio or back home from the studio, Mr. Mukabi (fondly known as Panye in art circles) would offer to drop him home or sometimes give him fare to commute home: Korogocho (Koch). Patrick Mukabi was also the first person to take him to an art gallery.

Dan Oketch with a model.

By the time he was finalizing his primary school education, he was confident enough with his skills, that he started tutoring children on the basics of drawing, under the blanket of Ayiera Initiative in Korogocho.

After completing high school, he decided to start a project that would promote art in his society, which he dubbed MusicArt. To host an event for the project, he needed money that he didn’t have, so he fundraised and got 10,000 KES. The event was dubbed G-Concert: G-Jue, G-Inue, G-Pange. In 2016 alone, he had organized three editions of G-Concert, with the biggest one having attracted a crowd of 1,500 people. This was a great achievement for him.

In 2017 however, Dan was imprisoned for close to a year-11 months-, and having been the vision-bearer of G-concert, it fizzled out.

His sentence affected him psychologically. However, during the period of his incarceration, he got the idea of drawing patterns on people’s bodies. If keen, you’ll notice that his geometric lines and curved patterns also incorporate the number ‘5’ a lot. The significance of this number not only sheds light on the ability of his hands and the multiple things that he can create with them but also and more importantly, the freedom of creating art that he has now, then denied by having his hands ‘cuffed’ while in prison.

The number 5 to Dan is an expression of freedom as much as it is a tale of what he can do as an artist; drawing, painting, interior and exterior decorating, customizing shoes, bags and clothing…

After getting out, he had to start from the ground up. He started by seeking models to draw on, but that came with its challenges as he couldn’t afford to pay them. His resolution was to draw on himself, initially using his sister’s make up. He would then take photos and post them on his social media. With time, he started gaining popularity as a result of his consistency and the exceptionality of body art.

One of Dan’s designs on a model’s arm.

His body art skills have seen him work with organizations such as EABL, Bata, The GoDown Arts Center during their events such as the monthly GoDown gig, as well as media personalities and individuals. He continues to draw on

Currently, Dan is mentoring 3 gentlemen and 1 lady in drawing and body art. He does this to give back to the society he grew up in and to have apprentices for his work, as his client base keeps on growing.

His motivation to keep creating has always been his society and the appreciation he gets regarding his art. Dan Oketch is inspired by artist Longinos Nagila, who pushes him to keep working towards making his work better, and whose work he says would drive him to tears.

Art has been very cathartic in Dan’s psychological healing journey- specifically body art-, as has been talking to professional counselors.

He currently works from the Rooftop Studio, Landmark building at Kariobangi.

i am a dream still dreaming
-nayyirah waheed, Salt

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