African Queen

The title of my painting is “African Queen”. It is about my identity and my pride as an African woman. This is why I have added African fabrics and symbols in my artwork. For instance, I have the calabash, the pot, the milk gourd and a sisal basket. The milk gourd is used to store milk. My grandma used to put milk in the gourd, and it fermented in a way that made it both sour and very sweet. The pot is where Africans keep water so that it is cool, and it can also be used for cooking meals. The sweetness of food cooked in a pot is on another level. The sisal basket (kiondo) which I decorated in African fabrics is used by the Luos when we go to the farms to harvest maize. I used the green to represent the vegetation. Luos have farms where we grow maize for ugali. Ugali goes well with tilapia fish. My heart is Luo. I come from Kisumu – known for the lake fish, tilapia. That is why I painted tilapia fish on my body close to my heart. The skirt and the Luo hut are also part of my identity.
I chose the pink colour because it is bright and feminine – I love bright things. My body position shows that I am in a jumping position, depicting myself as having the freedom to jump high and reach my goals. My message is that, as a woman, you can go to school, have a job and earn good cash, on a par with men. I drew the camel because of its resistance. It symbolises my strength as a woman. I believe that, even in the darkest moments, I can still see the light. The blue in the upper part of my painting represents the sky, and the dove with a colourful flower represents freedom. I drew the dove because in African culture women are seen only as wives meant for the kitchen but men are supposed to go to school. The dove and my beautiful flower symbolise the fact that things are changing, and I believe there are better opportunities for us females that will allow us to fly even higher than men.
In the lower and brighter, pink-coloured part of my painting, I drew a maskani and right next to it I have written “United we stand divided we fall”. This maskani is a safe space, where female and male youth volunteers like myself address our problems. Whether female or male, we can work together and achieve what we want.
I also drew a family because the family unit is a very important thing to me. I put my siblings inside a heart, as these are the people that I love most. Next to the family, there is a mosque, which is about my identity as a Muslim growing up reading the Qur’an in the mosque and performing Salah.
Kenya is my country and my home. The constitution guides me and protects my rights as a woman, and that is why I have chosen to paint the flag of Kenya and the constitution.
There is a dark side to my painting. Here, I drew a beach and a dolphin. At the coast, people believe that jinns (bad spirits) inhabit the ocean. The beach has become a place where I do not feel so safe because of that.
I used grey and drew a mall to represents things like the bombing of the Westgate and Dusit malls. Many innocent people have died in these attacks. The red and black colours symbolise the blood that was shed when many Kenyans lost their lives. Personally, I love malls and going window-shopping. After these incidents, I felt the malls are not safe for me. People can come across our borders with explosives and we cannot stop them. I come from the South Coast, where I have to cross on the ferry. I think twice when I have to come to town. I do not know who is a friend or who is an enemy or who has good and bad intentions. I do not feel safe in crowded places.
Finally, I drew a second mosque in this darker part of the painting to draw attention to the fact that mosques are, at times, used for the wrong purposes to radicalise and recruit youths.
Looking back at this workshop, I realise how much I have talked to express my feelings. The use of colours helped me a lot. I want to start using this method when we go for our maskani visits, to let people think deeper and use colours to express what they think and feel. Assist them to find the words, explain the pain they feel, without being too emotional. Art helps to find a solution.