Thirty four-year-old visual artist Ella Banda has been named one of the 100 talented artists worldwide.
She is set to receive the 2023 Prince Claus Seed Award which recognises inspiring artists and cultural practitioners whose work imagines new realities and inspires positive change.
It also recognises emerging artists and provides support to their career development, creativity and experimentation of cultural practitioners whose artistic work engages with pressing social and/or political issues within their own local context.
Reacting to the news, the youthful artist says: “It’s good to know that my work has been recognised as having the potential to make an impact locally and internationally.
“The Prince Claus Seed Award will help bring to life some of the many ideas I have about working with women in our local community. With it, I will also be able to use my art to connect and empower individuals.”
It comes just a year after Ella was awarded the virtual residency under Sommerakademie Paul Klee (SPK) which was hosted by the Bern Academy of the Arts in Switzerland in 2021.
“The residency ran from 2021- 2022, but due to travelling restrictions because of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was accepted as a virtual participant. However, I joined the rest of the group in July to August 2022 for a few weeks in Bern, Switzerland for the finale.
“It was created by renowned contemporary artist Dora Garcia and it opened me up to the larger network of artists with a feminist influence in their work,” says Ella who has such a big love for the arts, including music, dance and theatre.
After her residency with SPK in 2022, the Lilongwe born and bred mother of three children became a peer with Afield, an international network of cultural change makers.
Afield gives fellowships to artists and cultural practitioners who have initiated social projects catalysing change and empowering their communities in long-term and tangible ways.
As Ella shines— one recognition after another— one thing that is clear is that this artist in her did not come from the blues because growing up, she loved drawing, sewing and, therefore, this is an art she has cultured for years.
“I remember drawing and selling floral greeting cards in primary school. I never had thoughts of becoming a professional artist, but I kept at it. In my free time, I drew and sew.
“I also grew up looking up to my older sister, who back then used to make good drawings after Vic Kasinja and copying album covers of the likes of The Dogg Pound. I would draw on everything and in every book I got my hands on, including my mother’s midwifery textbooks,” she explains.
Later in life, she got to perfect her art skills when she went to Chancellor College.
Ella studied the two things that interest her and was somewhat good at.
The artist studied education, majoring in home economics, textiles, design and early childhood education.
“I double majored in fine arts as well. These three areas of study complimented my creative skills and interest,” says the creative who wishes to grow her creative practice and make an impact worth noting.
Ella practises her art within the Ozhopé Collective – à group consisting of Tavwana Chirwa, Masa Lemu, Emmanuel Ngwira and herself.
As far as her advice to younger girls goes, she says: “Go for what you’re passionate about, don’t let it die, don’t be ashamed to practise what you’re good at and talented in.
“I always say your skill or profession will feed your body, pay the bills, get things done, but your talent feeds your heart and soul. You cannot do without it. So, in your gains, don’t forget your passion.”
Ella grew up in a household of seven children, with her as the sixth born.
She discovered many things by herself through the guidance of her sisters, college mates and church family.
Her parents separated soon after Ella sat her Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education.
She explains: “At some point, it was just me and my siblings living together. Through this experience, that was when I discovered a lot by myself. I’m thankful for my sisters and for my family in Christ.”
Ella, graduated from Chancellor College in 2013, with a bachelor’s degree in education social studies and fine arts.
Besides her passion for the arts, she also loves working with children.
It is this that drove her to establish an early years’ school called Ella’s Nest Daycare in Lilongwe’s Area 10.
“My sister and I founded it in 2019. We initially planned to open a children’s special needs centre, but due to the challenges we faced, we decided to go the day care route.
“We both have experience in early years education and were looking into getting involved in something we could both enjoy doing. After a year, I took over as a sole proprietor,” says the expert.
However, despite being an artist and an early years’ educator, this is not what Ella aspired to be as a young girl.
Just as many girls in Malawi, she did not have a role model.
The closest to a role model was her mother who was a nurse and midwife working at Kamuzu Central Hospital at the time.
Her first choice in her college applications was nursing with animal studies at Bunda College as the second choice.
“I grew up looking at some of my mother’s books and knew how to treat wounds from a young age. I have a good understanding of medication because of my mother. I have always been fascinated by the field of medicine. “As I grew up, my interest turned to animals. But all this took the backbench when I got to college and focused my energy on the things I was good at and had a natural love for,” she says.