Busia girls wow with art educating public on Covid-19

Mamai, Opollo and Nafula are shining in sector dominated by men, changing perceptions

In Summary

• A trio of girls are among 10 artists from Busia who participated in art project 

• They are defying gender stereotypes in using creative arts to educate on Covid-19

Edelqueen Mamai paints the COVID-19 mural at Amagoro town on Friday July 3.
Edelqueen Mamai paints the COVID-19 mural at Amagoro town on Friday July 3.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta promised artists a bailout of Sh100 million, Edelqueen Mamai, 18, had no idea of the announcement.

The enthusiastic artist only learnt of the April 6 news three days later. The funding was under the Covid-19 Economic Stimulus Package.

But even with the discovery, she remained clueless on the application and participation procedure.


She told the Star she became excited as a result of the announcement as she undertook to exploit the opportunity and showcase her prowess in artistry.

“I saw a message on one of our youth WhatsApp groups about the project that was to take place in each county,” Mamai, a firstborn in a family of four, said.

“I linked with The Kenya National Visual Arts Association Western region coordinator, who connected me with our current group leader.

“I resolved to take part in the project because I believed in myself and knew I would shine. I was inspired and I had the confidence to do my best if given the opportunity.”

Mamai is part of a group of 10 artists from Busia who participated in the project, which calls for using creative arts to educate Kenyans on Covid-19. The project is run by the Ministry of Sports and Culture and the National Museums of Kenya.

Mamai's group has three girls: Mamai, Nelly Opollo and Madelyn Nafula. She said being an artist in the art industry, which is dominated by the male gender, is never easy since many people doubt women’s ability to paint walls.

The shy and soft-spoken girl said she is out to change the perception and encourage more girls to join the art sector.




Many Kenyans think art is an industry of academic non-performers and boys, says Mamai. The young artist from Amagoro, Teso North, says immense efforts need to be invested in changing the perception.

“I am delighted I was part of the Sports and Culture Covid-19 project, and I want to bank my experience to change how people, particularly girls, see art," she said.

"People believe art is not something serious as compared to other disciplines like medicine, law, engineering and education. 

“Girls in specific need to wake up. Their being female should not be a limit to engage in jobs that are male-controlled.”

She said the art field is male-dominated, but she is joyful these days women like her have started coming into it, although it is not that easy.

"Many people demean us just because we are ladies. I want to remain as an example to the saying that, What a man can do, a woman can do better,” she said.

Mamai sat for her Form Four examinations in 2019. She has been admitted to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

But she said her admission to the Kakamega-based institution will not dampen her pursuit of creative art excellence.

“Everything has a beginning and this is just but my beginning. I'm going far,” she said.

Girls still at school, she said, ought to change the perspective through which they see art and embrace the discipline because painting can earn money that professionals in other fields receive.

Sports CS Amina Mohamed on May 12 said the Sh100 million unveiled by the government will be spent in paying artists.

Others set to benefit from the fund include dancers, cartoonists, actors, comedians, musicians, graffiti artists, as well as film makers for their content uploaded on the Ministry of Sports Kulture TV portal.

Amina said the Sports ministry will mobilise creative cultural artists to join the anti-Covid-19 fight to convey messages of wearing protective gear, hand washing and social distancing.

“We want to see messages on anti-domestic violence, mental health and wearing protective gear,” the CS said in Nairobi as she launched the fund.

She waived registration fees for creative professionals taking part in the project. All the work submitted will be vetted after submission.

To Mamai, the project has provided a perfect opportunity for young artists like her to showcase their talent. “Many people don’t believe that women can also paint walls. People doubt our ability to do art,” she said.

“Despite this perception, we have worked on a mural to educate the public on the measures to take to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This is the time for potential clients to know that women can also do painting, even better than men.”

A mural is a large painting on a wall. Mamai's colleague in the 10-member group, Nelly Opollo, encouraged more girls to embrace creative art.

“I love art because it is a way of expressing one's deeper most feelings and emotions. With art, I can express fully what I find that even words cannot explain,” Opollo, 22, said.

She said as a female artist, she has to work harder so her work is above the ordinary expectation of a good piece just like in other male-dominated industries.

The Bachelor of Arts student at University of Nairobi already has a programme in which she visits schools to highlight the importance of art to society.

The programme was temporarily suspended when President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered schools to be closed after the country registered its first coronavirus cases.


Drawbacks for Opollo’s pursuit for excellence are many, as potential customers do not believe she can draw and paint like her male colleagues.

“When it comes to clients, before a client trusts that a girls can really do the work, most of them ask for our sample works. They would want to see our previous works for them to believe we can draw,” she said.

“Art has a great future and I would say for those people who are art enthusiasts, this is something that takes people far because it entails things we do through craft work and it is very original because we do art from our mind and with our hands.”

She said many artists do not have adequate money to help them engage in intense campaigns to markets their work.

Poor marketing strategies, she said, had dealt a huge blow to her ability and the ability of her colleagues to increase their visibility, and this has limited their ability to sell and earn money.

“County governments need to work support art. We have departments of Art and Culture, but rarely do we hear of money being allocated, for instance, for talent development,” Opollo said.

Her participation in the Sports and Culture Covid-19 project, she said, has provided her with the opportunity to prove that girls can excel in disciplines people perceive as men's.

She said as they drew the Covid-19 mural in Amagoro town, most pedestrians stopped and took a glance at what they were doing.

“They would stop and ask since when did girls start painting walls?” Opollo, the lastborn in a family of six, said.

Her other female colleague in the group, Madline Nafuka, said working in a sector dominated by the male gender has never been easy for her.

“It is tough but the good thing is I have learnt a lot since men can be easily approached and one can easily deal with them,” she said.

She expressed optimism that she will excel in the industry since she gets adequate support from her male colleagues.

The three girls are part of a group of artists operating at the Kiwimbi Public Library in Amagoro. They occasionally meet to discuss art ideas before embarking on the actual drawing.

The three said marketing their artwork is another huge drawback they face, especially at this Covid-19 period when the Health ministry is restricting movement.

The group leader Denis Isogol said selling artwork at the moment is almost impossible. Restrictions to contain the spread of coronavirus have hurt their expected revenues.

“Art is something that needs you to go to the field, you need to meet people and you need to meet art collectors as well as meet your clients. But due to the pandemic we have now, we are hard-pressed because we cannot meet our art collectors anymore,” Isogol said.

Hosea Otulia, Western region coordinator of the Kenya National Visuals and Artists Association, said working with Mamai, Opollo and Nafula has given him the opportunity to discover their strengths, which he said he would develop.

“I feel so excited because there is a general cynicism where females are given a back bench. I also feel great when I see a great number of female artists doing great. They put a lot of finesse in their work,” Otulia, a trained teacher, said.

“I will use the girls in my team to mentor other girls. I am also a teacher, this gives me the chance to interact with young girls, spot potential and start mentoring them from an early age. I also ask teachers to identify girls with talent in art to join the group at Kiwimbi Library for training.”

Otulia said there is a huge potential from artists, only that they need to be given direction. Otulia also supervises art groups in Bungoma, Kakamega and Vihiga.

Edited by T Jalio