Artists torn between local and global markets

Joyce Archie admits to allure of foreign market but won't forget her roots

In Summary

• Creative shed light on the 'subjective' debate after musicians dodged it

Joyce Archie and a sample of her work, Satchmo Melodrama (acrylic on canvas)
Joyce Archie and a sample of her work, Satchmo Melodrama (acrylic on canvas)

I was recently among creatives who attended an incubator programme by Hustlesasa at The Alchemist, Nairobi. That day, we were to be mentored by musicians Tetu Shani and Olivia Ambani on how to turn our passions into profits.

The session was amazing, and at one point, I raised my hand to ask whether it is more profitable to market one’s art abroad than in Kenya, seeing as art isn’t appreciated as much here. Tetu Shani answered that it is a subjective case since some have succeeded, while others haven’t. The answer wasn’t satisfactory, and so are all others that mention how something is ‘subjective’ or ‘relative’, because it’s a formal way of saying, “We’re not sure about that, and the only thing we’re sure about, is that we’re not sure about that.”

Noticing I wasn't satisfied, a fellow attendee shared her personal response to the question I had asked, as well as her interesting experiences in exhibiting art in a foreign market. Piqued by this, I decided to sit down and have an interview with her. Her name was Joyce Archie. Her story is below.

Ang’ana: This place is full of creatives of all kinds, including musicians, fashion designers, visual artists and even writers like myself. Can you introduce yourself?

Joyce: My name is Joyce Achieng, but my friends call me ‘Archie’. I am a visual artist who mainly deals with mixed media, acrylics and, once in a while, digital art.

Ang’ana: How did you discover your talent?

Joyce: Being a lastborn, and with siblings way older than myself, I used to get bored easily since I couldn’t play with them. One day, while in Grade 3, my mum realised this, and so, she went to the local store, bought a set of oil paints and brushes, and handed them to me, together with the instructions the shop owner had shared with her on how to use them. I got my hands on them and instantly, a natural bond formed between us, almost as if I had been painting in my previous life. My love and passion for art started off immediately, and from then on, all my free time was spent creating new paintings.

Ang’ana: What was the reception of your newfound talent from those around you?

Joyce: Every time I’d paint something new, I’d definitely show my mum, who’d encourage me and pin the paintings on my bedroom wall. My classmates also noticed my impeccable drawing skills, and from then on, outsourced the diagrams on science assignments to me to draw. My teachers, not to be left behind, tasked me with the job of drawing the teaching aid charts. I loved doing these things for them, and equally, they loved the work I did for them.

Ang’ana: Were you able to pursue art when you got to high school?

Joyce: Yes. Fortunately enough, I got the opportunity to attend a high school that offered art as a subject. There, I was able to harness my skills into what they are today, thanks to the help of Mr Amos, whom, for that reason, I am still in contact with to date.

Ang’ana: Have you been able to exhibit your works publicly, and if so, where?

Joyce: Yes, I have. You know, Paul George once said that, “Never tell me that the sky is the limit, yet there are footprints on the moon.” Therefore, rather than set the local stage for my exhibitions, I have decided to go international with them. Just this year, I presented my artwork before delegates at the United Nations Cultural and Diversity Day. My work has also previously been exhibited at the MASK Art Gallery in Manchester, UK, and to that effect, I got nominated for the MASK Art Award in 2022.

Ang’ana: Wow! That’s an amazing feat. How did you go about submitting your work to art galleries in the UK, and what was your reception to the news of their acceptance?

Joyce: I’ve always wanted to work internationally, to have a voice outside the confines of the Kenyan borders in the creative community. I took the mandate of sending my work to various art galleries and taking part in international competitions in the hopes that, through that, I would be able to reach international collectors and join the international scene. Through the MASK Awards, the MASK Gallery reached out to me and showed their interest in showcasing my work and working with me. I was elated, considering I had tried to get such an opportunity for years. When the joy dwindled, however, the self-doubt crept in. I began feeling maybe I was too young in the industry to take on such opportunities, and that my work wasn't enough in the long run. Through my support system (my friends and family), I was able to cross that hurdle, and now I'm a lot more confident in my craft. I think Imposter Syndrome in the creative industry should be addressed much more than it is done so. I'm glad I was able to deal with it before it became debilitating to my craft.

Ang’ana: Seeing that you’ve gone international now, do you have any plans to exhibit locally anytime soon?

Joyce: Of course! I can’t forget my roots. The Kenyan creative scene is currently growing and I wouldn’t want to miss out on the growth. I plan to hold a solo exhibition towards the end of this year. I'm also in the process of bringing together various artists and photographers to hold a grand creative exhibition. Apart from exhibitions, I've been taking part in various flea markets in an attempt to make my work more accessible to people of all backgrounds. Art isn't a luxury for the rich. Rather, it's an expression of oneself and the environment that should be accessible to everyone regardless of their societal status.

Ang’ana: Whom can you say is your inspiration?

Joyce: Once more, I’m forever grateful to my mother for all the support she’s provided in nurturing my dreams and ensuring they come to fruition. She is the reason I discovered my art, and the fuel for my success thus far.

Ang’ana: What can you say about the future?

Joyce: I am still young, and thus a work in progress as a creative. I have a long path ahead of me that I’m so eager to explore.

Ang’ana: Where can we fans see your work?

Joyce: I mostly post it on Instagram, so check out my page – Archieart.

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