Painters 2017

Manja Jordans

“I love a challenge,” Manja says. “My mantra is to just get on and do it.” Quietly determined, Manja has lived an exciting life. Her former career, making documentaries for Dutch radio and television, was filled with adventurous travel. Fluent in several languages, she criss-crossed the world for her work. “I am a curious person. I like to have conversations in the street. I never get tired of it.”

This sense of adventure comes to light when she explains her connection to Africa. Having fallen in love with the music of the Malian Harp Lute, she took herself off to Bamako to learn from the few remaining musicians. For the next eight years, despite the ridicule, she returned on a regular basis. Living with the local families, she immersed herself in the culture. “Being in Africa, surrounded by the local people and this lovely music – what more could you want?” she says.

Manja had made an impromptu trip to Lamu twenty years earlier after filming a documentary in Uganda. In her eloquent English she explains her attraction: “It was so small then, not so crowded as it is now. My favourite subject is the cross-cultural tradition – Indian, Somali, Kenyan. I love it. I love the faces. It’s too bad I am not a portrait painter yet. It is so British here – I love it. They speak such good English too.”

She only started painting after Mali. With her love of a challenge, she took herself off to art school where she was the oldest student. “I felt a little embarrassed but I wanted to learn.” She candidly admits that she is not techniquely the best artist in the Festival. However, her most recent Lamu works struck a chord with Natalia Dik who pointed out their energy and honesty.

“I can’t stop looking at everything: the water, the people, the boats. I don’t care what comes out – I just want to paint it.”