In dealing with racism and sexism, Joy Miessi’s artwork is a visual record of her reality–thoughts, feelings and experiences that define a generation.
Through navigating some of society’s most complex issues such as race, gender and sexuality, Joy Miessi uses her artwork to document the experiences, issues and challenges that she’s continued to face throughout her life. “I want them to see me. Every piece is essentially a portrait of myself,” Joy explains. “My art is autobiographical, it’s a diary of me. Throughout my life, I’ve experienced many accounts of racism and sexism, that it’s changed the way that I am.”
Much of her work cites a feeling of displacement that reflects her journey of understanding how her Congolese origin struggles to fit into mainstream British culture. The London-based artist’s work combines vivid colours, typography and illustrations to create a therapy that helps her to vocalise the experiences she simply doesn’t have the words for. Her lively and energetic works provide a brief glimpse into the world through her eyes, while at the same time make a statement about some of society’s biggest realities.
How was your interest in art sparked?
I have an uncle who is very into art, he would tell me about art exhibitions he went to and tell me about his favourite Congolese artists. My birthday gifts from him would be paint sets, pencils and paper. From there onwards, I’ve enjoyed drawing comics, making videos, animations, painting. From there, it grew from something I did at home on my own to something outside of those walls, collaborations and commissions. It’s been quite exciting so far and it’s all started from my uncle’s encouragement.
You often cite a feeling of displacement as an important part of your experience as a black person in the UK, when did you first realize this feeling?
For me, it’s a feeling I noticed from a young age. I had been made to feel that this isn’t my home and often told so plainly, though this is where I have been born and raised. It has impacted every aspect of myself, my self-confidence and mental health in particular and I’m weary but still trying to heal.
You make use of vivid colours, typography and illustrations, what do you want someone viewing your work for the first time to feel or think?
I want them to see me. Every piece is essentially a portrait of myself. The colours reflect my memories of family and aesthetic in Congo, the type reveals thoughts and feelings and the drawings are observations. It makes up me.
How are your socio-economic beliefs and experiences manifested in your artwork?
My art is autobiographical, it’s a diary of me. Throughout my life, I’ve experienced many accounts of racism and sexism, that it’s changed the way that I am. These social issues naturally affect my daily life, they merge into my work seamlessly as this is a reality. I discuss these moments in my art as a way of addressing the problem and exposing the reality. I find the process of creating these visual diaries cathartic.
Why do you think art is the most effective way to communicate your message?
I don’t think it is the most effective way, but it is the only way I know to express myself. I want to document my story, to promote equality and show that, despite the lack of representation in the media, I exist.
What role does mental health play in your practice?
I discuss mental health in some of my pieces, sometimes it is the subject and other times it is what affects the process itself. I’ve been put under pressure numerous times to create a high amount of work or to instantly respond to emails in a short amount of time, regardless of whether it is out of hours, as I am a freelancer it is seen as acceptable.
Do you have any advice for young artists trying to find their footing in the art world?
Utilise social media, in an age where everything is online, this is a good way to archive your work, share your work and potentially have your work seen by a global audience.
Words by Braeden Alexander – Discover more of Joy Miessi’s work here.