Since age 8, Martin Owino has fostered had a deep-rooted passion for art, especially batik, a cloth-decorating craft with origins in Africa and Asia. In fact, Owino’s passion for the intricate art was vital to his survival as a child growing up among the Luo people of Kenya.
“It was how my family made a living, it is what I’ve always known, and what I’ve always loved,” said the third-generation batik artist.
When creating batik, Owino prints or sketches a desired image on a piece of raw cotton fabric. He then applies several layers of paraffin wax or natural plant dyes before coloring the original design. Creating the final result — cloths swathed in rich indigos, sepias and periwinkles — is a tedious task.
“Batik is not like most , it’s a true process,” Owino said. “There are no colors here in America like there are in Africa. To create the beautiful colors I have to get them from African trees.
“Every month my family in Kenya sends me colors from the trees at home, it would be impossible to make the batik’s without them.” The wax is also what makes the art last for a long time and families can pass it down from generation to generation without the pieces aging.
Moving to the United States in 2001, Owino wanted to introduce the vibrancy of his culture to the American people.
“When I first moved to Oregon to show my art across the northwest, I was inspired to make pieces that expressed the love of African people,” Owino said. “It’s so warm and beautiful there. If every place was like Africa, the world would be better.”
Owino’s efforts to share the beauty of Africa’s people have been fruitful. His work has also been featured in the U.S. Embassy as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development in Kenya.
He will be showing his work this year at the Sugar Loaf Craft Festival in Timonium, Md., taking place April 16-18. The festival has showcased some of the nation’s most talented artists for over 30 years. Rated as one of the top craft shows in the country, over 100,000 guests attend each year.
Owino now resides in Maryland where he continues to show his work at festivals and markets across the country.
“It is very important to me that my customers understand how much love and work go in to each batik I make,” Owino expressed. “I want them to walk away with the feeling I grew up with. Although the African people may need help, we still love to help others. It’s love, it’s joy, and it’s art.”
To find more out about batik art or to purchase Owino’s work, log onto www.kowinobatiks.com.