Complexd Women

A day in the life of cosmopolitan women around the world


Name: Sheba Sahlemariam
Occupation: R&B/Reggae/Afro-Beat Artist
Place of birth: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Current residence: Brooklyn, New York City

I’m Ethiopian, born in Addis Ababa, but raised in exile with New York City as my home base. My parents were international civil servants and after the revolution in Ethiopia, my family became scattered around the globe. We were quite nomadic and traveled around a lot so I grew up in Guyana and I’ve lived in Germany, Canada, Jamaica and too many other places to mention.

I don’t sleep a ton so I’m an early riser. I like to get up between six and seven so I can hit my computer and get some work done. I start my day with a super food shake, because it makes me feel less guilty about the coffee or anything junkie that I might have right after. I’m an artist from head to toe so my clothes are always colorful, bohemian and rebellious. You would be hard pressed to catch me in a suit or anything too status quo.

I make my living doing the odd thing here and there. I used to work as a Marketing Director before I decided to go full throttle with music. Since then, I’ve held down a zillion part time jobs doing everything from selling real estate to packaging and selling essential oils. I am currently working on a project titled ‘Who is the Queen of Hearts’. I wrote this song called ‘Queen of Hearts’ a time in my life when I felt like a line was being drawn in the sand. My personality and persona has always been loud, but if you strip everything away, all the culture, pizzaz and bells and whistles, I’m just a woman who is lead by her heart, even if it’s broken. I think a lot of people can relate to that and there are a lot of ‘Queen of Hearts’ out there.

This project, album, my whole philosophy is about heart, courage and passion. When people listen to my music I want them to feel the heart in my music so I could have a real relationship with my fans. I have two albums worth of material that I will be releasing over the next year and there is a lot coming down the pike; like self-directed videos and possibly a book. But I want people to get a sense of who I am and what I stand for before I start plying them with a ton of new material.

I was feeling lost and heartbroken when I put out the song ‘Love This Lifetime’ with Bounty Killer. I was burned out from running the label, I did not make money back and was having a difficult time supporting myself. I had to move out of my home and find new ways to get some income. I basically took time out and wandered around Europe for a few months, visiting friends and family, and ended up doing a pilgrimage across France and Spain that renewed my purpose and love for life.

My forthcoming album ‘The Queen of Hearts’ is a collection of songs that take you through the journey I went on from seeing things in black and white to Technicolor. It’s a chronicle of going from an optimistic and eager young woman to a Queen of Hearts, who’s seen a thing or two and had her heart broken, but found her way back home again.

The song titled ‘Technicolor’ was inspired by all the people that were there for me, reminding me that life is about good relationships and being around loved ones. Musically, expect a pop album with a lot of international, global culture influenced by my travels and life. So there’s dance/edm, a little reggae, African and rock.

I love the feminine spark in me that is sensual, sexy, compassionate, powerful, divine and motherly all at the same time. Women give birth to worlds. Being a woman is awesome. If I had to give another woman advice I would tell her to be the Queen of her own heart. Wait for no one; you are the one you have been waiting for. Step into your power and open up like a lotus flower. Shine and never apologize for being a light in the world.

We are all special and unique, but my particular brand of special is colorful, honest, bold, spicy and very global. I am a Complexd Woman because I grew up in the UN community where I was constantly interacting with different people from different cultures. Growing up scrappy little kid in New York City and coming from this rich ancient heritage in Ethiopia have all informed me and made my particular voice interesting and flavored. I am a woman with a lot to say and a lot of stories to tell.


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Name: Isabel Brash    
Age: 32
Occupation: Owner of Cocobel Chocolates
Place of birth: San Fernando, Trinidad, and W.I.
Current residence: Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad

I’m a ‘Trini’. My ancestor’s five generations back came from different parts of Europe, but Trinidad is my home and my culture. Being Trinidadian means you can fit in just about anywhere in the world. I grew up in a Catholic home and went to a Presbyterian/Hindu primary school.  I always celebrate Diwali with my friends and was taught songs in Hindi as a child. I was also a very busy child; I attended ballet, tap and piano lessons. My grandmother was a pianist in Woodbrook, Port of Spain and we used to spend Carnivals with her. She would walk me and my brother up and down the road to see the bands pass and people clanking rhythmically down the streets.

My days are never average. I have a fold-down/Murphy bed in my office and typically do not get to bed before 2am. I wake up at 8am and each day/night holds a different challenge. Some days I process fruits to stock up for the chocolates, some days we sort, roast and shell beans; some days I temper and chop chocolate into little chips for clients and some days I paint molds and prepare a few batches of ganache. I catch sleep when I can and eat erratically!  I would describe my style as dark chocolate because half the time I’m caked in the stuff.

I was an architect before I became a Chocolatier. It was not a conscious change – it was an organic transition. Like Architecture, I approach chocolate making as a challenge and a craft. Transforming beans into chocolate is like designing a structure and seeing it being formed from the earth, up. It’s not often an Architect gets to see something they have designed exactly the way they wanted it. So the fulfillment of being part of this mystical transformation from cocoa bean to chocolate artisanal creations is a perfect substitute and I get to eat it at the end! It’s the instant gratification and vocal satisfaction of my customers that’s made my transition very easy.

My chocolate company Cocobel started when my brother bought Rancho Quemado Estate seven years ago. The land had an orange orchard and honey was being produced there as well. When I started making chocolate, they cleaned up the outskirts of the land and revitalized 25 acres of the old estate. To date we have now planted 5000 new cocoa trees.

Cocobel chocolate is full of raw ingredients and the flavour combinations are based on the traditional flavours found in Trinidad and Tobago. I fuse flavours to create my signature mango pepper, pineapple chadon beni, tonka bean, sorrel, ponche de crème bonbons. Cocobel is quintessentially Trinidadian so we don’t do chocolate coated strawberries we do chocolate coated guava cheese or ginger. I’m a trained Architect it’s not just about the taste, it’s also about the look, form and function. So I paint molds, add texture and sculpt all my chocolates. The end product is a box of chocolates that look like a mini art collection.

Cacao is a super food, so when you add it to other natural fruits in a naturally sweet combination you can over indulge because it’s good for you. The real benefit is the fact that these chocolates are nourishing and pleasurable at the same time. So there you have it, Cocobel chocolate can make you happy, and being happy contributes to good health!

At the moment I only take orders online, but in the near future I plan to open a shop where people can come and purchase chocolates and lounge with a cup of cocoa tea. I will be increasing production of the chocolate bars and covertures; maybe even for export, but the fruity bonbons and other confectionery items will stay in Trinidad and Tobago for now. The bonbons have a short shelf life because they are made with fresh produce. Keeping my business home-based also demonstrates how we can use our exotic local agriculture to make unique products. We import too much food in Trinidad so I think it’s about time we start supporting each other.

I am Complexd because I don’t try to be anything than what I am. I’m passionate about my work. I find treasures that most cannot see and share them with those who do not believe.

Find out more about Cocobel Chocolates here

Portraits by Sophie Meyer 

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Back in 2011 our Editor attended the graduate exhibition of  Joanna Fowles and Deborah Vessey (see here). A year later she followed up with both ladies in a post titled Life After Uni . Textile designer Joanna Fowles who migrated back to Australia talked about finding and developing her creative identity. We are pleased to publicise that she has launched her first online shop. Support your fellow Complexd Women by checking our her site out and spreading the word - 

‘The collection is made in Sydney with each item dyed by hand and printed in the studio by the designer herself. Pieces are then beautifully sewn into product by a local maker. Wherever possible fabrics, dyes and printing inks are ethically and sustainably sourced’

‘My work is process driven by a focus on hand elements and mixed media. I experimentswith dye, shibori, print and digital techniques. These processes are combined to create a unique timeless quality’

Buy these beautifully hand-made scarves here

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For World Teachers’ Day, Complexd Woman presents aspiring British/Punjabi teacher Bipan Lally, pursuing her teaching credentials in California.

Name: Bipan Lally
Age: 26
Place of birth: Luton, United Kingdom
Current residence: Davis, California, USA 

Although I’m a proud British woman, I am also a proud Punjabi, Indian. I grew up in Luton during a time when gangs, drugs and crime were on the rise. Schools in the area weren’t that great, but my parents pushed us to succeed. During the summer holidays, my brothers and I were not allowed to turn on the TV until we had written a full A4 page of our own story. My dad would ensure it was written in our best handwriting and my mum would make us go to the public library and pick out two books a week. At the time it was hard to appreciate the value of what they were trying to teach us. Both of my parents were born and raised in India, until they moved to the UK in the late 70s. They didn’t speak English back then and they never finished school, ‘what could they possible teach us’, I used to think. Looking back, words can’t describe how grateful I am.

I am currently studying for my teaching credential and joint masters at the University of California Davis. As a part of my placement for my masters, I am teaching at Pioneer High School, Woodland California. The school is underachieving and has been for many years, but I chose it because I want to make a difference in the lives of young people studying there. I teach Chemistry and Biology and I love what I do. My students are like my kids and nothing feels better than seeing the look of hope on their faces every day.

I’ve always wanted to travel to the USA for my masters because I knew I’d learn something new. I stayed in London for my undergraduate degree and although I loved every minute of it, I needed a change. The culture in the USA is more family orientated and religious to some extent. In the area I live people are extremely kind – almost to the point where you question their motives before realising that being nice is normal. The way of life in California is much more mellow and easy-going and I feel people have the ‘work-to-live’ mentality compared to ‘live-to-work’ ethic in the UK.

My style is conservative by day and casual by night. My simple and conventional style is a message to my students that what you wear today will be useless tomorrow, but what you learned and achieved will be priceless. That’s not to say you can’t dress fashionably. Kids are extremely perceptive, if you look like you just rolled out of bed their motivation disintegrates.  My philosophy in the classroom is to teach much more than the curriculum. I think it’s my role as a teacher to show my students how to behave professionally in all aspects of their life by being professional in the classroom.

One of my best friends recently made a joke about my incurable travel bug. I love to experience new cultures and see more than just the beaches and tourist hot spots. I need to live, breathe and be immersed in the country’s culture. To be able to be afforded the freedom to travel worldwide and not take advantage of it saddens me, especially when considering how beautiful our world is.

I love that as a woman we were created to carry the world, giving birth to its inhabitants. The best piece of advice I can give to another woman is never let ‘cultural norms’ or self doubt get in the way of fulfilling your dreams. Use your head to make career decisions your heart to love and your soul for family. Travel and love as often as you can. We learn the most about ourselves when we’re plunged into new beginnings and even moments of despair. I’m looking forward to telling my children and grandchildren all my wonderful travel stories and that even as a woman there is no limits.

I am a Complexd woman because during my struggles and fall backs I’ve never given up. I became ill with Ulcerative Colitis when I was 13 and suffered horrendously for many years, but I never let it define me. I worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day for 4 years after graduating so I can be where I am today. When the tunnel looks gloomy somewhere a soft light is shining. As much as I wanted to give up from exhaustion I kept on going.

Follow Bipan @bipanlally

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Here’s a round up of our favourite street styles from Complexd Women around the globe who have flocked to London for fashion week.

 Abigail Liebovitz, London

Wearing: Skirt – Jones + Jones/Jacket & Bag – Vintage/ Wedges – Asos

‘I love London Fashion Week for the display of innovative style mixed with the culture and history of England, it’s really something unique’

Eve, France

Wearing: Shirt – Topshop/Trousers – boutique in France/ Bag – borrowed

‘I come to London Fashion Week for the amazing FASHION!’

Zoe Noble, London

Wearing: Shirt – Cos/Skirt – Zara/Bag – Phillip Lim/Shoes – Churches

‘For me London Fashion Week is all about taking photos’

Charlie Fiander, Windsor

Wearing: My grandmothers jacket as a dress/Shoes – Vintage

‘I love people watching at London Fashion Week, it’s like the clash of fashion and style’

Tamara McCleary, Caribbean

Wearing: Shirt –  River Island/ Trousers – Topshop/ Earrings – Melody Ehsani/Bag – Vintage

‘The street style during London Fashion Week is definitely my favourite, I love observing the different looks and individuality’ 

Elisa Panizza, Colombia

Wearing: Dress – Handwritten/Jewelry – Mawi/Hat – inherited vintage by Eustaf Nilsson_Lund

‘I love the atmosphere and the people! London Fashion Week is all about wearing what you feel happy in!’

Peony Lim, English/Chinese

Wearing: Manolo Blahnik/Prada/J-Brand

‘Visit my online style diary at 

Lueng Liu, China

Wearing: All Tartan Spirit

‘London Fashion Week is a great place to discover emerging trends and celebrate fashion’ 

Camila Coelho, Brazil

Wearing: Blouse & Skirt – H&M/Shoes – YSL/Clutch – Zara/Watch – MK

‘I love the warmth and excitement of the people at London Fashion Week’

Images by Frederique Rapier 

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Name: Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe
Age: 25
Place of birth: Grenada

Current residence: Calivigny, Grenada

I was born in Grenada and I’ve lived primarily between Grenada and the east coast of the United States. My family also has Jamaican heritage so I describe myself as a trans-national Caribbean woman. My family is not perfect, but we are very close. My parents have given me the freedom to let my passions and creativity flourish, they nurtured that and for the most part have always trusted me to make my own choices. Neither of my parents have one single focus or commitment, there are many other things that excite them. I am definitely the same, for as far back as I can remember, I have treated life as an exploration.

I run Spice Harmony Yoga Studio with my parents, who are certified yoga instructors while working on my second degree – a cultural studies thesis on memory and the Grenadian Revolution for the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. I am committed to community development and social justice and other ventures I have started like Groundation Grenada Action Collective and The Grenada Goat Dairy Project . Because of this my days vary greatly, but most mornings I wake up around 5am and teach yoga classes.

I’m more productive at the beginning of the day so I wake up early to get the most important tasks done first. By the early afternoon I teach an evening yoga class and relax. I’m a Pescaterian and my dad is an organic farmer so I eat his fruits and vegetables all day long. I feel the difference in my body and in my whole approach when I am being mindful of what I put in my system.

It’s hot in Grenada, and I like my freedom so I wear wraps (sarongs) a lot. I’m often in yoga clothes because I teach quite a bit, but also because they are so comfy. Regardless of what article of clothing it is, I am drawn to softness, colour and funky patterns. I recently joined The Grenada Goat Dairy Project as Director of Public Relations last year so if I need to get down with the goats, practicality is my first priority when it comes to my outfits.

The Grenada Goat Dairy Project (TGD) was established in 2008 under another organisation called The Grenada Project and TGD officially became incorporated as a non-profit in 2011. Our cofounder Christine Curry, wanted to develop a sustainable business that would be economically and environmentally friendly that could also be plugged into the community. You have to be connected in order to provide relevant, hands-on education and support and not enough is happening on the ground to support gardening and farming, but also to raise awareness about how crucial it is to know where your food comes from. Our communities are trading their environment and their health without taking into consideration all of the facts, so as an organization our aim is to build awareness about the issues and offer practical alternatives.

Our product’s cover about 70% of our operating costs so far. The demand is higher than our supply, so we are working towards building our capacity so that we don’t have to rely on funding and so that our education and demonstration facility can financially support itself. The truth is it doesn’t have to be a massive industry to sustain itself. In a small place like Grenada, we can show that these intimate, supportive, environmentally conscious entities can fuel the economy.

When we raise the funding and implement the programme, it is my hope that we can influence young people’s attitudes towards farming and agriculture. I also want it to be able to change their perspective on what a full and successful life looks like. We are being sold this idea that living well is about the ability to consume as much as possible. I want to share the idea that living a life with a sense of what you individually want and need, goes hand in hand with being compassionate about all the other beings that we share our resources and planet with. Farming and agriculture on a whole is a way of creating the highest quality fuel for our dreams and being considerate of our ecosystem as we do it.

We are still in a foundational stage with the Goat Dairy and it’s a lot of work to keep the project afloat and to get it to the stage of being self-sustaining. It still surprises me that we have not had any support from the government, but it has provided us with an opportunity to show that nothing will get done if we sit around and wait for the perfect equation. We need to set the tone as a society about what we feel is important and our governments and institutions will follow our lead. 

I stay motivated because I see food security as a solution to a lot of the issues that Grenadian society is facing. We are in need of economic growth, jobs, improved health and dynamic education systems. For me, all of these are linked. Focusing on creating high quality, nutritious (and delicious) local food and discussing all the issues that affect and inform that production, can influence the growth of our society in a positive way.

I love my sensitivity, usually an attribute of women, but I think that anybody can have it. For me, this sensitivity forms a foundation in so many aspects of my life, from my creativity and critical thinking, to the ways that I love or allow myself to be loved. It isn’t an easy energy to keep in balance, but when I do channel it in a healthy way, it works for me and allows me to grow. My advice is, allow yourself space for honest self-reflection so that you can have the room that you deserve for growth.

I am Complexd because I embrace me. Even when I see my glaring mistakes, I have to eventually turn around and show myself self-compassion before I can ever wish to live a life overflowing with love.

The Grenada Goat Diary School Project has 20 more days to go to raise their $55,000 goal. So far, 146 backers have pledged $18, 789, visit their Kickstarter page here to find out more and support this project

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Name: Marie Wengler
Age: 20 
Occupation: Contemporary Digital Fine Art Photographer
Current residence: Denmark, Copenhagen

A portrait from my mother’s modelling portfolio  

My mother is a former top model and my father used to be a wind surfer. My parents and I have had so many unforgettable memories together. My dad had a fascination with storms, like most surfers. He would wake me up in the midst of a storm, mum would wrap me in a blanket and give me my hot chocolate and we would sit in the car watching the storm with the radio turned up blasting Bob Marley. My childhood got a bit turbulent when my parents divorced, but it taught me how to cope with and accept change. I moved to different schools a lot so I never got the opportunity to build long-term friendships. I’ve never seen it as a hindrance as it allowed me to focus more on my academic skills instead of insecure friendships. Because of my upbringing, partying, drugs and drinking has never appealed to me as much as having a stimulating conversation in an intimate bar/café playing live music.

A tear-sheet from my mother’s modelling portfolio  

When I was younger, my mother tried to push me into modeling, but I have always been more interested in creating the imagery rather than being the image. Beauty is transient, but the creations of an artist are everlasting. My desire to study and not be studied has been a contributing factor to my use of the camera as a filter between me and my subjects. Behind the camera I can be unnoticed allowing me to observe the attitudes and behavior of others.

One of few self-portraits

As a teenager I was stigmatized with Mensa. My high IQ alienated me from my age group, so I began to see my intelligence as a curse rather than a gift. Now, it’s not something that I’m proud or embarrassed about, but I am more comfortable expressing these feelings through my art. A lot of my friends and family think I should have a more academic career. It was only after my first solo exhibition at a recognised gallery in Copenhagen that they now appreciate my enthusiasm and commitment to my art.

My dad has always tried his best to support me both mentally and financially. He brought me my first DSLR camera several years ago, which was my first step into the world of photography. I experimented with different photographic genres and learned how to use the camera, but I never managed to create exactly what I had in mind because the images were too close to reality. This is where I developed my interest for photographic manipulated art.

I like the idea of giving my photographs a new meaning through the use of digital manipulation techniques. I’m very inspired by dystopian dreams and my experiences and reflections about my generation and relevant issues in today’s society. My work explores loneliness, anonymity, individualisation, alienation, globalisation and the fear of death.

I’m also very fascinated by the human body, which is why nudity features a lot in my work. I see the human body as a limitless source of inspiration, especially the young female body, which is characterised by both uncertainty and vulnerability. In my upcoming series of images I will be focusing on beauty ideals in today’s society. I believe that the concept of the perfect woman and the perfect body is inhuman and unreal and therefore impossible to live up to, especially if you don’t use ‘photoshop day cream’. This is why the one thing I would advise any women to do is to believe in themselves, be happy, independent and to retain their integrity and not base their entire existence on materialism.

I am Complexd because I am a girl shaped by my good and bad experiences. Being unique is something that my generation strives for and everyone is doing their utmost best to stand out from the crowd. In my opinion, their attempts to do so always fail because they seek to stand out by following the social norms and rules of everyone else trying to stand out. Perhaps I’m Complexd because I simply do not make an attempt to stand out – instead of exposing myself I choose to expose my art and let my changing artistic expressions define me as a person.  We are all unique individuals – if only we dare to relax and stop trying to outdo each other and let our true personalities shine.

View more of Marie’s work here

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At 8pm (BST) this evening the 14th edition of the Paralympic Games will be declared open in London. Today’s Complexd Women presents female paralympic athletes who epitomise the term Complexd Woman.

Stefanie Reid – Great Britain 

Stefanie Reid’s multicultural upbringing gives her the option to compete for three countries, but for the London Olympics she will be representing Great Britain as the only female amputee sprinter in the 100m, 200m and Long Jump. She lost her right foot in a boating accident aged 16 and her life was saved by a surgeon in Toronto who managed to stem the blood flow through amputation. She is currently completing a Masters in Nutrition and also has a degree in Biochemistry.

‘Lately, I have noticed people referring to me as an Olympic athlete. I am proud to be a Paralympian, and every time you refer to me as an Olympian, you are chipping away at the Paralympic movement. I am honoured to be a Paralympian and I see no shame in the term’

Terezinha Guilhermina – Brazil

Terezinha Guilhermina is a visually impaired Brazilian Paralympic athlete who is the world-record holder in the 100m, 200m and 400m (classification T11). One of twelve brothers and sisters, four of which are also visually impaired, she was born into poverty and had to borrow her sisters trainers to take part in local running competitions. After winning gold in Beijing, she is the undisputed fastest female Paralympian and was able to buy her father a new house.

‘I used to always say I wanted to be the world’s best when I was a child. If I were a police officer, I wanted to be the best. If I were a garbage collector, I would be the best. So, when I saw the track in front of me, I told myself I wanted to be the world’s best athlete. Every coach that would show up to train me, I would say, ’can you train me to break the world record?’ They would tell me that I was dreaming too high’.

Kelly Cartwright – Australia

Kelly Cartwright is an ambassador of the Australian Paralympic committee and will compete in 100m (classification T42) and Long Jump (classification F42). At the age of 15 Kelly chose amputation for her best chance of survival after being diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer in her right knee. In August 2009, Kelly achieved the extraordinary feat of successfully reaching the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro.

‘Climbing Kilimanjaro was the hardest and toughest challenge I have ever set for myself, both mentally and physically. I’m a stronger person both on and off the track because of it and it made me feel as though I can achieve anything I want and that I am able to push myself to the limit’

Tatyana McFadden – USA

Wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden was born with an underdeveloped spinal cord that left her paralyzed below the waist. An unwanted disable child, her upper body strength in her arms developed after spending the first six years of her life in a Russian orphanage that didn’t have any wheelchair facilities. In 1994, she was adopted by an American woman who encouraged her to take up various sports activities. Nine years later she became the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic track and field team in Athens. Off the track Tatyana is pursuing a degree in Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois, and works as a national advocate for equal access for people with disabilities.

‘It’s important to be as much of a support as you can for people living with disabilities and getting them involved with society and things they love. That’s what my mom did. She wanted me to be healthy and live a normal life, as much as possible, so she got me involved with sports. 

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To celebrate India’s 65th independence we recognise the drive, determination and sheer innovation of Sheena Matheiken, who was featured in our Summer issue back in 2010. Sheena who was born in Ireland and raised in India, pledged to wear a little black dress for 365 days to raise money for the education of underprivileged children in Indian slums. She showed how fashion and sustainability can go hand in hand and managed to raise $100,000 for the cause. Women around the world continue to take on the one dress challenge as an expression of socially conscious fashion.

Read her full interview written by contributing writer Brian Clarke in Complexd on page 48-49 here and listen to her TEDx Dubai talk below.

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Name: Robin Clare
Age: 34
Place of birth: Belize
Current residence: Sydney

Both my parents were Jamaican, but I was born in Belize, making me the first person in my family to be born off the island for at least a century. My parents moved there the previous year so my father could take up his post as a Doctor at the local hospital, but my mother and father divorced before I was born so I never got to know him or met him. My mother and I lived with my grandparents who filled the gap of my absent father very nicely.

I spent most of my early childhood in a bit of a feral state, I hated shoes, loved sitting up in trees and enjoyed getting messy. We moved back to Jamaica when I was four where my stylish mother set up a small dress making and manufacturing business. When I was 12 she died in a car accident and I was sent to live with my family in Canada. I spent my high school years in Canada and moved back to Jamaica briefly before heading over to the UK to study art. I now reside in Sydney and it’s been interesting. Sydney is a stunning city. There’s not really much of a Jamaican presence, but people are curious to know more as most people know a little bit about Jamaica through its musical legacy.

I’m an Artist/Illustrator who loves colour and pattern and it tends to saturate my life more and more. My current work is heavily influenced by Jamaican dancehall culture and party promotions. The commissioned illustration work I’ve done also tends to be related to my own work in style and content. Being able to work with Jamaican themes has been a good way to stay connected to my culture and avoid getting homesick as I’ve spent half my life pining for home.

I wake up at 7:10am every morning since we moved to Sydney, I think there’s a bird living in the tree next to us that mimics an alarm clock. I have a studio at home so it’s not always easy to draw the line between work and home life, but I try to keep to regular office hours like 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. This way I can be sure to make time to get out and have a more rounded existence. I’ve found that if I don’t have that discipline I can get so obsessed with work that I don’t really do much else. Sitting or standing in front of a painting or drawing for hours on end does mess with your back and mind so I try to make time for exercises every day by doing yoga or pilates. It’s been interesting learning that I need to dedicate time to taking care of myself.

The colours and energy of Jamaica has always inspired me and the dancehall scene encapsulates all that. It’s full of ingenuity and unique style – both good and bad. I’m inspired by the whole pop culture that surrounds it from the dances to the fashion to the way it’s promoted. I read somewhere that Jamaica has the most prolific musical output in the world. When I was growing up I remember always being surrounded by people singing, it’s the same still when I go back to visit. Music is such a big part of life on the island. As I can’t sing I paint it in my own way. The paintings are also a way to make sense of what’s going on in the country and try to understand how my culture is evolving.

Jamaican culture is very sexualised and dancehall culture reflects that and feeds into it. As a woman I find it fascinating having lived between Jamaican culture and more reserved cultures in Canada or the UK. Dancehall seems to put everything out there in the open and artists sing praise for women of all colours, sizes and shapes, but they can also overstep and take things to extremes with misogynistic or homophobic lyrics. I do worry about the message that some songs and artiste send to women and younger girls about their place in society, but dancehall is symptom of a deeper problem not the root. I feel that often dancehall is used as a way to have a dialogue about issues in the same way reggae was used in the 70’s and 80’s. Jamaican society in contrast to the ruckus lyrics of dancehall is actually very traditional and many issues don’t get discussed.

To celebrate Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary I am taking part in an exhibition titled Art in the Dance Hall in London. It started out in Birmingham as part of the BASS Festival and opened on 27th July at Puma Yard, Brick Lane, which is the official home of the JA Olympic team. I will also be travelling to Jamaica to celebrate there and hopefully will have more to celebrate with good news from the JA teams Olympic efforts.

It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable as a person and a woman. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to let go of the things I can’t control and concentrate on those that I can. Maintaining strong and positive relationships with family and friends is also very important to me and helps me stay grounded. I am a Complexd Woman because I seem to have the drive to pick up and keep going no matter what happens I keep moving forward!

The Complexd team went to view the Art In the Dancehall exhibiton and bask in Jamaicaness at Puma Yard in Brick Lane London. We definitely recommend paying the Puma Yard a visit, check out our pictures below and for more details click here

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