Get to know: Joy Miessi
"Mistakes show my flaws, my vulnerability and in the end, they aren’t mistakes but a key part of the piece"
London based artist Joy Miessi was born in Britain to Congolese parents – this clash of cultures underpins the vibrant explorations of self and identity that stand out in her work. Different layers of meaning are built up by drawing, painting and collaging, whilst the addition of typography carries her voice right through; it’s like reading her journal. Joy’s art is relatable in its vulnerability and leaves us feeling warm with introspection. Journeys of self-acceptance can be tough, but with art like this, not so lonely.
Firstly, we love the vibrant colours in your work – it’s the colour palette of dreams! Who or what inspires this?
Looking back through family photos has made me realise I’ve been surrounded by colour. My childhood was filled with colour, one of my favourite things to wear was my yellow tracksuit top and bottom, which I’d wear with multi coloured hairbands at the ends of my braids. I have memories of attending weddings and not a single person wearing black or white, the hall would be filled with brightly coloured suits, dresses, hats and headwraps. Congo is often referenced for it’s fashion and colour clashing and I like to reflect my this in my work.
Amongst other themes, your art often explores merging cultures and self-documentation – can tell us more about your background and dual British identity… what was your childhood like?
I was born in London to two Congolese parents. My childhood felt like a mix between two worlds. Inside my home I grew up with Congolese traditions, food and aesthetics surrounding me. Outside, I was exposed to British culture, music, style and language. My childhood felt like I was navigating between the two as I never felt like I truly belonged in one place or the other. I’m growing to understand it all now and have a better sense of self, formed identity that now I can communicate these feelings better than before and I do this through my practice.
The text in your art is deeply self-reflective… does this come before the image in your creative process? How do the words and imagery fit together?
As a kid, I loved reading children's books like Lima’s Red Hot Chilli and Handa’s Surprise, and till this day I still love illustrated books, I like the way that text and image fit together so naturally. Using text allows me to tell my story clearly and to put out my thoughts straight from my phone notes into a piece. I usually always start with an image however, as the image sets the theme for a piece. From the first markings, I then weave in and out of drawing bits and writing bits till I reach the end and when I’ve got out everything I’ve wanted to output. The composition from children's books and posters from my teens have stuck in my mind and influenced the layout in which I work now.
What’s really interesting is that you’re often embracing mistakes – crossing out, re-writing, drawing over… why is this important to you? What’s going through your mind when you’re working?
These mistake end up being a part of the piece, it shows a thought, re-considering, it shows flaws and Sometimes I make small spelling errors or I change my mind and these result in elements crossed out. I embrace these parts and refuse to erase them completely as they are a part of the process. Those mistakes show my flaws, my vulnerability and in the end they aren’t so much mistakes but a key part of the piece.
You’re often drawing yourself – do you find the process cathartic?
Yes, I draw myself because I want to see myself reflected in art. I draw myself to become more familiar with myself, to love myself. I draw myself because who else will, if I don’t.
We love ‘Women to Rise’ – can you tell us more about the meaning / story behind this?
Women To Rise referenced a photo I had taken of my friends and partner. The composition and the way that we held each other in the photo inspired me to make a visual ode to the network of supportive women around me who have helped me to grow, to grow in knowledge, awareness and self-love. The strap line at the bottom of the piece reads “I’d pray for the women who helped me to be, to rise” which means, as I grow, I also want the women around me to grow alongside me.
When you’re not creating art, what are you doing?
Writing notes, watching noughties rnb videos or working.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? There’s so much that I would want to be and still would like to! I would like to write, to produce music… I would still want to be a creative of some sort, if not visual.