Everyone in the room sat patiently waiting for the event to begin. Families embrace one another as if they hadn’t seen each other in years. Anxiously waiting in the corner by the DJ booth stood a young lady who was ready to show the community what four years of college education accomplished.
Joyce Fombah faced the crowd and revealed what she considers her “passion.” In excitement, supporters stood up to witness the gallery of intricate art pieces all hand crafted and made by her. At an instant, Fombah knew her goal to be a fine arts illustrator was a reality.
Fombah, 24, graduated from Montserrat College of the Arts with a BFA in Illustration and Creative Writing. Prior to completing her degree, she worked to encourage her family that pursuing a career in the arts was a reasonable profession. “My family wanted me to do something in the medical field, or something more substantial that would be solid for my future,” she said. “I wanted to take another route.”
Born and raised in Liberia, Fombah and her family migrated to the United States in 1998 during the time of 14-year old civil war that plagued the country. “There was always abrupt chaos,” said Fombah. “The environment was dangerous and we couldn’t attend school.” She understood that her father wanted the best for his family, prompting Fombah to move at a young age.
“My father was always adamant about what career would give me stability,” she said. Fombah is one out of nine children, and financial stability was crucial to helping other family members in Liberia. “People told me it wasn’t a smart thing to do, but I proved to them otherwise.” she said.
Her extensive background in fine arts and illustration has been recognized in The Salem Old Town Hall for ArtSpeak, Exhibition Artrageous 27th Annual Art Auction, and Children’s Book Week at the Beverly Public Children’s Library just to name a few.
With Fombah’s usage of acrylics, gauche, graphite, watercolor, and digital technology, she describes the imagery of her pieces to be “meticulous, lively, and serene. One of her personal favorite pieces that were featured in her summer showcase in August 2013 was titled Politics of Blackness. In a zealous tone, she illustrated the meaning behind the piece. “This is the politics of race,” Fombah said. “It shows what it means to be ethnically different in a society where brown skin and kinky hair is not good enough.”
Obtaining an education in the arts has given Fombah a positive outlook on its contribution to everyday life. In school, she used her passion for human trafficking and child labor issues to raise money for Restore, a New York based organization that helps victims exploited by sex trafficking. “Artist create art for auctioning and proceeds go directly to the organization,” she said.
During her summer showcase in Lowell this past August, she received high praise from many people in the African community. Ruthie Mukiibi, a Bunker Hill Community College student remembered Fombah’s art work vividly. “Just by looking at the detail, you can tell how dedicated she is to her craft by observing her pieces. The visuals are amazing,” she said. Mukiibi kept up-to-date with Fombah’s art work through social media. “It was great to finally see the originals up close in person; I had been anticipating it for a while,” said Mukiibi.
Joann Varnie, a childhood friend of Fombah’s was “proud” to see her friends hard work come to life. “I think most of her inspiration comes from self-love and her love for God and this beautiful earth he created for us, Varnie said. Varnie’s favorite piece is The Story of the Hummingbirds. “I like it because to me it symbolizes peace, unity, and love with no respective of skin color.
Fombah’s fervor for storytelling has led her to pursue her ultimate goal of becoming a well respected African fine arts illustrator and creative writer. She hopes to see her work featured on library shelves across the United States and abroad, as well as major magazines for upcoming illustrators like 3X3 and 4CMYK. “These magazines are the Vogue magazines of art. Upcoming illustrators are highlighted and become well recognized for their work,” said Fombah.
Since graduating, her pieces have been purchased by various art consumers. “I have learned to step away from putting myself in a box. I want to be more versatile, not limited,” she said. “In order to get into those “Vogue” magazines, I need to start small.” She was able to sell a few sought after pieces of her work, and has been requested to create more. “A lot of people hear about what I like to do, and instantly ask me to draw them or their children. I’m about to start working on a few portraits.”
When she is not creating masterpieces, she is in her community mentoring students. In the fall of this year, Fombah took the position as adviser for UMass Lowell’s campus ministry organization called Intervarsity. “I was also in their shoes [students]. I am attracted to the idea of helping students find strength in themselves to do great things spiritually,” she said.
For future projects she envisions herself focused on creating detailed oriented realistic art pieces that are symbolic and image driven. Fombah will continue to support organizations that aid to human trafficking and child labor victims. Fombah’s last word for everyone chasing their dream is that “The importance of pride in where you come from and who you are is key to knowing what your purpose is. It’s knowing that you have the power to set your own standards. Being African in an area where there aren’t many of us is a challenge that only stands when it is allowed.”
For more on Joyce Fombah and her work, please visit: http://joycefombah.weebly.com/
All photos courtesy of Joyce Fombah.