Friday, 10 January 2020

How Young Artists Are Curbing Unemployment in Kenya

I am Melissa Joe, daughter of the most high. Creative doer, painter, podcaster, music enthusiast, dog lover and cat tolerater. I come from the Luo tribe of Kenya which is heavily concentrated on the western side of the country,  around Lake Victoria. We are known for our extra dark skin, deep love for tilapia and our passionate support for a local soccer team named Gor Mahia.

Art is literally my life. I wake up excited at 4am to paint and even fail to notice hours pass as I'm working. Most times, people have to remind me to eat because I get so engrossed and end up forgetting that food is a necessity. Art is my version of therapy because I provide a platform for me to pour out my emotions, with the assurance of feeling much lighter once I'm done. Tried and tested! It's a reminder of just how fascinating life is, through the fact that we each have different gifts and capabilities, as well as paths in life. This has, of course, made me appreciate human differences more. Art is what I see myself doing until the end of time.

The Hadassah Project is my baby. I discovered a need for children who are under the Kenyan system of education (which is solely academic) to embrace their talents and have the option to develop them to a point where they can earn through these talents. I mean, we each have ours for a reason. I happened to be fortunate enough to attend an international high school (under the British curriculum) that was art-oriented, but the majority of Kenyans cannot afford that luxury. 

So, Hadassah provides that opportunity specifically for kids from poor backgrounds, by setting up art clubs within schools in slum areas. We then proceed to have regular classes with them, and expose them to the growing Kenyan art scene, by accompanying them to galleries and artist studios and other places of inspiration plus education. Our connections and experience as a group of artists are basically at their disposal, with the aim of raising successful art legends.

I don't think I have specific influences. I borrow and learn from a lot of historic and current artists. However, I do love Pablo Picasso's constant evolution in his styles. He never stuck to a particular technique for long. Andy Warhol is a major inspiration at the moment. His experimentation with contrasting and bright colours, solid backgrounds and prints are what I'm into now. Today's Nigerian artists are also playing a big role in my experimentation; Rewa, Lord K. Puri, Benny Bing and the likes.

Mwenye Mwanya,  Swahili for "one with a gap at the front of his/ her teeth, is definitely my favourite child. Such peculiar beauty, I love it! I use canvas or wheat straw board as surfaces, acrylic paint, pencil, and of course brushes, as well as forks and my newly found love...combs. Mediums are endless.

One compliment/critique I get a lot is "your work is soooo neat!" That's actually a representation of myself. I have done a painting (King Saul) that was the image I got from the description of a bible character. That showcases my belief, I guess. If I could make a difference in Kenya through art, I would ensure that it is a respected profession and have more Kenyans willing to buy art, especially without negotiations.

I'm incredibly grateful to have had Melissa on my blog today. To help out with the Hadassah Project, you can support financially, buy art made by kids and help the Hadassah project establish connections with other creatives. To learn more about the Hadassah Project, email or contact Melissa
personally on Stay in touch with the Hadassah Project here. 

To stay updated with my blog and read more interviews like this one, stay in touch via my Instagram 



  1. I’m just going to start by saying how cool it is that her energy, enthusiasm is palpable through her words! Then, what a cool project; tackling a huge problem by addressing another one...? Freaking awesome! Our African cities are bursting with so much life & creativity and giving kids the opportunity to explore their expressive side is also so important for our development as a continent. Kuddos Melissa & kuddos to Miah for consistently finding relevant things to share and talk about!

    1. Hi Semra! Thanks for the support! Melissa's doing an amazing job and they're all so talented, too. Keen to see brighter futures for the kids in Kenya!