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Artist spotlight


What is your background?

My name is Sally Atieno. I was born in Nairobi to a family of 5 children and raised in Mombasa. I am a crotchet artist, an actress, a model, and an entrepreneur. I majored in Automotive engineering in college and graduated in 2019. Currently, I am pursuing a course in software engineering while running a florist business: Sallyzgarden.

When did you begin making art?

I began making art at the age of 7 years from watching what my mom was doing. My mom spotted my interest in crocheting and taught me other techniques like the loom and latch hook but it wasn’t until the year 2018 that I took up art, at first as a form of therapy, which later on progressed into a business.

Who are your biggest influences?

It has to be Mauro Frazao. He has a way of turning a mere ball of yarn into fine art, which I find fascinating. He is the epitome of creativity.

Which current art world trends are you following?

None. Simply because I am currently combing all the techniques that deal with yarns. Mixed media I guess.

Where do you find inspiration?

Nature. It certainly has to be natural and most of the time in architecture, especially indoors and mosque designs. The intricate and carefully put-together designs in places of worship like mosques fascinate me a lot, for instance, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. 

When is your favourite time of day to create?

I create best at night when it’s quiet and the world is sleeping. I think it has something to do with my middle name: Atieno which means night.

artists working at a park

How has your style changed over time?

 Over time, My style has changed from making crotchet tops/ clothes to making framed art pieces that combine different techniques. 

What are your favourite and the least favourite parts of professional art?

The least has to be the pressure, pressure on deadlines, and the pressure to keep up with the current trends. It is exhausting, but the best part is finding a community that understands and appreciates your art. You can find a market to advertise and sell your work.

Describe your ideal working environment.

My ideal working environment is anywhere close to the beach, the forest, or an enclosed place with few to no people around, preferably at night.

I am a crotchet artist

Describe how we can encourage your career growth.

Organizing artists meet up or exhibitions or pointing to a direction where artists gather and share their work. Networking boosts confidence and encourages one to put their work out there for the world to see.

Describe your dream project.

My dream project is the “wandering but hanging chains”. It is a crotchet sculpture made purely of copper wires inspired by the great Ruth Asawa. I would love my pieces to hang in museums one day. 

Describe the best piece of art that you have created.

The piece that I am currently working on. It depicts the coastal beaches in their glorious self with little more crotchet pieces to symbolize the sea bed. I have always loved the water as it carries life, it carries beauty, and it also carries a dark side but the beauty always stands out and I want to show all these in a single piece of art. 

What is your most embarrassing moment?

Embarrassing moment? (laughs) walking down Nairobi’s CBD in a torn dress, later on, I had to give a speech on national TV in the same dress. I had to act like I was unaware of it. 

artists in mombasa
My name is Sally Atieno

What is the best piece of advice you have received so far? What advice do you have for others starting out

The best piece of advice you have received so far is: ” Be your authentic self and show up like you”

My advice for others starting has to be in a book ( Steal Like an Artist ). It has everything an artist needs to know.

What item wouldn’t you do without?

I definitely cannot do without my journal. I am always writing, and the more I write, the more the ideas keep popping in my head. 

How do you balance your time in the studio with other commitments such as a part-time job, family, admin?

Since I work best at night, I use the day to run my flower business and always rest on Sunday, and spend time with my family. 

What is your normal workday like?


Crazy! No sleep, especially on paid commission when the time is limited. I work throughout the day and night with a minimum of 2-3 hours of sleep with lots of coffee to keep me going. But they are usually the best moments in life.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

I’d say my instincts play a major role in this, they always guide me. When I step back, and I like a piece, then it’s done! But if it is a paid commission, whenever the client is satisfied and happy, then the work is done. 

Where can I get prints of your paintings or find you?

I hardly share my works online I am working towards fighting the imposter syndrome that has been with me for years now. This year I purpose to share my work more on-online. From this year on, my work will be on Instagram and Twitter. 

Instagram: @b.khalees 

Twitter : @saliqbella.

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What’s your background?

Ethnically, I am Indian. Born and bred in Kenya, I moved to the USA to study. Later, I completed my undergrad degree in Toronto, Canada. I majored in Design/Illustration.

When did you begin making art?

My earliest memory of creating art is in nursery school. I got very serious about art after finishing my A levels in Mombasa. I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so I took a few odd jobs and nothing satisfied me at the soul level. I would paint in the evenings and I used to fantasize about making it my ‘job’.

What does your work aim to say?

My work celebrates the mundane. I paint flowers, people and occasionally animals. I paint to create a 3D space on a 2D surface. Therein lies my challenge. I really love the idea of creating ‘space’ in a painting using just colour.

Who are your biggest influences?

A painting of a dog

My teachers, college professors, and colleagues have influenced me to paint. My parents have also always encouraged me to stay creative. They love my paintings. I used to paint with a friend in Toronto. His voice is often still in my head. He was an old man and he taught me a great deal about painting.
In Art History, I often refer to the work of Richard Diebenkorn and Paul Cezanne whenever I am stuck, so you can say they influence some of my work.

“Trends are for the anxious. I don’t follow trends…I make them!” Lord Maclean
I teach art at a high school. My students love to challenge me with their favourite trends. I find myself drawing superheroes!! That is something I never thought I would do. Anime is a huge deal with students, but I try to encourage them to draw in their own style rather than copying Anime. Having said that, I may have developed a new obsession with rather small works of art done with a biro pen.

Where do you find inspiration?

My favourite quote is “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” — Pablo Picasso. It may sound narcissistic, but I find encouragement and inspiration in my previous paintings-ones that I feel are successful. I study them to see how I made it work before, and I have to encourage myself to believe that if I did it before, I can do it again. Life around us is also inspiring. Nature is the greatest artist of all and I celebrate the same by painting natural forms.

When is your favourite time of day to create?

I am a morning person. I am most fresh, clearheaded, and motivated in the morning. But then again…anytime is creative time.

How has your style changed over time?

I used to think only super realistic work is art. I used to paint extremely blended and realistic paintings that took months to complete. Now I paint in a much looser style. I still struggle with letting go of control, but it’s getting there.

What are your favourite and least favourite parts of professional art?

My favourite parts are creating and teaching art. I love discussing art with other artists and designers. Least favourite has to be selling art and negotiating deals.

Describe your ideal working environment.

I like working alone in my studio. I have painted with others though. Having an artist residency where like-minded people can paint together would be really awesome.

Describe your dream project.

I would really love to be commissioned to create art for cafes and hospitals.


Describe the best piece of art you’ve created.

I think the best is yet to come!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What advice do you have for others starting out

The best advice I have been given…that would be to celebrate my own style and strokes. It is when you try to paint like someone else, using their style…that is when you begin to get into frustrations.
For others starting out: draw a lot of still life. Keep objects in front of you and draw. Learning colour theory early on is also essential.

What’s your most embarrassing moment in art?

I think flipping through art history textbooks with my students….sometimes we see nudes and I feel more embarrassed than they do. Even though I am not at all prudish, I am teaching kids, so I try to limit their exposure if I can help it.

What wouldn’t you do without?

The internet. Am I right? Everyone, everywhere depends on it for everything.


How do you balance your time in the studio with other commitments such as a part-time job, family ?

I work full time. these days I have adapted to painting small paintings and in watercolour, so they don’t take much time and I can still create daily.

Covid and the lockdown helped me focus a lot, so I spent a lot of quality time with family and did a lot of painting during that time.
I spend time with my family after work and on weekends.

How do you know when a work is finished?

It’s never that it is finished…At some point, I have to just stop because I feel like if I go back into it again, I will ruin what is there already. Other times, I have a deadline so I am forced to stop and call it ‘done’.

lilac-breasted roller

What’s your work-day like?

I am an early riser, so I am up by 5 am. I pray, meditate, shower, etc., then, I am at work by 7 am. I teach art so I prepare for my classes for the day. It involves a lot of research and it does not feel like work at all. I really enjoy teaching. I am

done teaching by about 3. Usually, I am home by 3.30 and then I paint or draw a little. I have to stay healthy, so I go to the gym for an hour or so. After dinner, I am with my family. We play card games or just talk for a while. Bedtime is around 10.

Where can I get prints of your paintings or find you?

I have not started making prints yet, but you can buy my work either directly from me (0737-800-594, or @millymamma on Instagram.) or from Diani Art Gallery.

Email: millymamma@yahoo.com

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My name is Mariam Suleman, born June 29, 1996. I am a self-taught visual artist born and bred in Mombasa, Kenya. I have been fascinated by art throughout my life but, my travel to China cultivated an interest in mandalas. Which I further developed upon my return with a twist of Islamic geometric art. Most people that come across my Mandalas have compared them to the Persian intricate artworks.

How long have you been making art ?

Since I was a kid, I always looked for an opportunity to translate what I experience into art, and since 2015 I have led a life fully devoted to art.

What does your work aim to say ?

Mandala artist Mariam Suleman

Before I get to the message behind my work, I’d like to highlight the definition of a mandala. Mandala means a ‘circle’ in Sanskrit. It’s famously known as a spiritual and ritual symbol in many Asian cultures. Inspected closely, there are many hidden symbols in the artistic details. When I chose this path, I decided not to dwell much on the symbols to relay a message but to explore my endless imagination and see where creativity would take me. I always pour my heart and mind into each piece and let the audience speak for themselves.

Who are your biggest influences ?

My biggest influences are a French-Tunisian artist called El Seed and a Pakistani artist called Bin Qulander. I know their works don’t resonate with my work but, I adore their masterpieces, lifestyle, discipline, and mostly their journey in the art field. I guess I am a mandala artist with a strong bond to calligraphy.

When is your favourite time of day to create ?

My favourite time of the day to create is most definitely at night. I won’t even think twice about this haha! It’s at this time when I get some ‘me’ time. No responsibilities to attend to, just me and the world at peace.

Describe how we can encourage your career growth.

I wish the answer to this question gets the loudest attention. I wish we had art residences where we could appreciate artists of all genres.
For instance, most galleries in Kenya prefer a specific genre of art: ‘African art’ Leaving artists like me feeling left out.
I’d encourage people to appreciate other forms of art, offer support both financially & mentally, lastly, we need more quality supplies at a reasonable price.

Describe the best piece of art you have created so far ?

A Persian carpet painting that I worked on for almost a month or two I think. It was the biggest piece I had created at the time. When I look at it, I feel proud and satisfied, but of course, it doesn’t end there. There’s still a fire in me to create better ones. Whenever I look at it, I see change, just like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. It was with this piece that I started working on something else apart from mandalas. It was my transitioning point.

What is the best piece of advice you have received ? What advice do you have for others starting out ?

I can not pinpoint which one is the best because all just marry each other, but here are some of my favourites

  • Remember, you have to make mistakes because each mistake will help you develop a new technique. 
  • Challenge yourself because the more you stay in your comfort zone, the harder it is to get out. 
  • You have to work with your heart and brain and keep improving yourself.

Advice for those starting out

  • Being an artist takes a lot of discipline and hard work. 
  • Know your identity and your roots these two will make you remember who you are every time you work on a masterpiece.
  • Lastly, keep feeding your brain to stimulate it.

When do you know that you have finished your work ?

This has always been a constant battle, every time I think I’m done, I see something else I could add or remove, but then I remember Leonard da Vinci said that “Art is never finished only abandoned”. So, I only stop when it feels right.

How do you balance your time in the studio with other commitments such as family ?

It’s all about setting priorities right. As a wife and a mother, I first make sure I’m done with my daily responsibilities during the day. This gives me ‘me’ time at night.

What is your working procedure ?

Sketching, drawing, painting, outlining, cleaning, and lastly, embellishment.

Where can I get prints of your paintings or find you ?

You can find me on my social media platforms, both Instagram and Facebook @marman399. Find out more about Mariam on her website

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Artist spotlight yona wanjala madibo


My name is Yona Wanjala Mudibo, I was born and bred in Mombasa, Tiwi currently living in Bamburi. Upcountry in Busia but I’ve been here all my life.

When did you first get into art?

I started getting into art when I was growing up. My dad used to sketch animal figures then I would try to copy them (He was my first inspiration, as he’s a pretty good artist himself) I soon started competing with my peers and that gave me more motivation to improve on my drawing. Eventually, in 2014 I started doing it professionally I painted various pieces then deliver them to galleries that paid on commission.

What does your work aim to say?

I consider myself an activist who uses art to express his message. And as an activist, I talk about various issues including, environmental protection & responsibility, good governance, integrity, justice, peace, and African heritage. These are things I believe will bring lots of empowerment and development to our society. Recently, I was involved in a project with other artists campaigning against plastic pollution in our oceans. Something that people take for granted, but if not talked about, could be the end of so much that is dear to us as humans.

Who are your biggest influences?

My art is influenced by various people around me and those that I listen to. Conversations I have with my family and friends, the music, and podcasts. By and large, our society influences me a lot.

What inspires you?

Wangari mathai string art

I am inspired by a dream. I dream of a future with a clean environment, a peaceful people, a just system, and a benevolent government. I hope my art will be part of the movement to that dream.

What’s your favourite artwork?

I have a couple of really great artworks in my portfolio, picking one is honestly a tough ask because I work in different media. But if I was to single out one, I would say the mural at MacKinnon market in Marikiti, Mombasa. That’s because I got to work on a monument that is older than Kenya itself (and in my hometown nonetheless).
There are also several string art pieces of Fela Kuti, Wangari Maathai, Nina Simone among others. Doing them was tasking but very fulfilling in the end.


I have no specific time for working, I work whenever I feel inspired sometimes it can be late at night early morning waking hours but in the daytime, you can find me at studio Bela Beal in Bamburi a creative studio/space for various artists I feel most creative when listening to music, it just feels like it’s flowing.

What genre of music do you listen to when working?

I listen to a wide range of music. It depends on the mood I am in. Sometimes it’s Hip-hop from the likes of Hopsin, Kendrick Lamar, NF, J Cole, or Chris Muga, other times its jazz from Fela Kuti, Nina Simone, or reggae, indie rock. But most of the time, Fela Kuti puts me in the groove.

When do you know that you have finished a piece?

Honestly, it’s hard to tell when one is done with a piece of art. For me, I only stop when I feel that there is nothing more that needs to be added to get the audience to see what I want to say.

What is your most embarrassing moment in art?

Hah! I honestly haven’t had much of those, and I don’t know if this counts as one, but I went to a talent show event, and every competitor was doing every other talent apart from visual art. I had to wait in line wondering if I had read the poster right. When it was my turn to present my craft, I stood at the podium with over a hundred people looking on and started talking about my paintings. I was the only visual artist there. And there was no visual art category. The end of the story was good though. I got to sell one of my pieces.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting?

To be versatile. 

Making it in life is hard. Making it as an artist is much harder because you are going against the system. So, to make it, an artist needs lots of patience, persistence, and a willingness to learn. 

Contact Yona

Interested in being in our Artist Spotlight? contact us here

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