One of Kenya’s youngest paint artists, Sheila Sheldon, has received global recognition as her works continue finding their way into the global market.
Sheila shot to fame last year after painting a portrait of President Uhuru Kenyatta and presenting it to him at State House, Nairobi.
The 10-year-old, who is in her fifth year in primary school, has artistic prowess that has caught the attention of art enthusiasts globally.
Last October, she visited California, USA, following an invitation from the Tese Foundation.
HONOURED ME WITH A TOUR
“The foundation honoured me with a tour and an award for my contribution to society and my role as an inspiration to other children across the world,” says Sheila.
The award from the foundation, titled Youngest Lioness Award, recognises her accomplishments in art.
When Weekend visited her parents’ home in Nyali, Mombasa, hundreds of portraits done by Sheila dotted her newly launched home art gallery.
Tese Foundation, a non-government organisation rooting for the welfare of destitute children in selected countries in Africa, came to Sheila’s attention when it announced a fundraiser for destitute children in Zimbabwe.
Sheila had offered her paintings for sale to raise money to assist the vulnerable children of the southern African country suffering as a result of a battered economy.
“I have been in the streets before and I know what it means to be destitute. I offered my pieces of art to the organisation because it was what I could afford,” she explains.
Sheila has also struck a deal with a Danish publisher to have her story used in an English text book for the country.
In the book, titled Yes We Can, which is both in print and digital form, Sheila’s story of love for art is told with illustrative pictures to teach children of her age how to spend their time at home and in school. The book is part of Denmark's school curriculum.
Her international standing has also been boosted by local and international media. For instance, she has featured in BBC and Fox 40 television stations, among others.
Sheila says her tour of the US exposed her to the importance of art globally. “I realised that art is more appreciated in other continents than in Africa when I visited the US. I could not believe the attention I received for my works,” admits Sheila.
Her current painting is titled ‘Real Life in Africa’. It shows multiple activities taking place at the same time. From a traffic jam, patients stranded in a hospital to traffic police officers taking bribe from a matatu, the huge, magnificent painting is an attention grabber.
Some of her notable paintings include portraits of former US President Barack Obama, rights activist Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey. Sheila has also drawn and painted governors Hassan Joho and Salim Mvurya of Mombasa and Kwale counties respectively. The artist who dreams of becoming a designer and a model when she grows up is already cashing in on her portraits.
“I have sold numerous portraits locally and internationally because of the publicity I have received,” she narrates.
She promotes her art through her Facebook, Twitter, website and Instagram accounts. Her 77,200 followers on Instagram have been a boost in promoting her art online. Thanks to her overseas connections, Sheila is currently refining a section of her portraits to fit the international art market.
Her mother, Viviane Otieno, says she discovered her daughter’s talent when teachers kept telling her that the girl had rare talent. “When Sheila was in Standard One, her teachers noted her rare talent in art. They advised me to help her nurture it,” says Otieno.
Sheila can also draw animals and various aspect of nature. Her favourite animal is elephant. She uses her free time, especially on weekends, to draw and paint. She notes the time it can take her to draw and paint one portrait varies.
“Some portraits can take me up to one month to finish while others can take me minutes or hours, depending on what I am tasked to draw,” she says.
This year, she is seeking to participate in art exhibitions across the country. She says she is determined to ensure her paintings are viewed and bought.