Kenya: She Shapes the City - a Gallery of Extraordinary Kenyan Women

press release

She Shapes The City" is a collection of portraits and stories of perseverance in almost impossible circumstances. Using portraits of Nairobi women, Kenya-based documentary photographer Mia Collis uses fashion photography and storytelling to highlight the out-of-the-ordinary achievements of everyday heroines, from intellectuals to creatives, athletes to entrepreneurs. She organized photo-sessions in a studio with blank, neutrally colored walls where her subjects wore beautifully crafted, stylish outfits and head-dresses while their emotional state was highlighted by carefully choreographed dramatic lighting.

Journalist Cynara Vetch interviewed the women and wrote the stories below to accompany the portraits in "She Shapes The City." These portraits are part of the permanent art collection of the World Bank, and Collis is part of the Bank's 2020-2021 online exhibition "We are Africa: The Power of Women and Youth."

Alberta joined the Gender Violence Recovery Centre (GVRC) as a volunteer after she went through a traumatic carjacking and attempted rape. Ten years on, and Alberta now heads up the center as its Executive Director. GVRC is the leading institution tacking gender violence in the region. As well as providing free medical and counseling services for tens of thousands of women and men across East and Central Africa, the center is also at the forefront of training professionals, both in the medical profession and police force, to work with survivors of gender-based violence.

Muthoni is a woman who wears many hats: drummer, rapper, singer, entrepreneur, but all revolve around a love for music. With her traditional 6-piece set of Ohlanga drums, Muthoni makes a dramatic statement on stage by mixing the Luo instrument with modern patterns and strong rap lyrics. This musician set up her own music event named Blankets & Wine in response to limitations with the club and live music spaces in Nairobi. The event exploded and has become the benchmark for live music in the city.

Teresa was pursuing her childhood dream, a career in banking, when she was falsely accused of a fraudulent transaction. Sentenced to imprisonment in the High Security Langata Women's Prison, Teresa was forced to bring her 3-month-old baby with her. What began as a loss of career and social standing led to her purpose in life, advocating for Kenyan women trapped in a cycle of poverty and life behind bars. Teresa is the Founder of Clean Start, which equips formerly incarcerated women with entrepreneurial skills and jobs.

"Initially I thought this is the worst thing that could ever happen to me--going from the banking sector to this dungeon of a place--but then I started noticing the close to 1,000 women that I was spending my time with. I started listening to their stories and wondering what brought these women behind bars. I know why I'm here, I'm wrongfully here. What brings them here?" Teresa reflected.

Catherine is an advocate for sex workers across Kenya. She left her prestigious role as a headmistress of a girls' school when she realized that single mothers were paying for school fees through their work in prostitution. Founding Life Bloom Services International first in Naivasha, and now Nairobi, Catherine aims to offer alternatives for women who once worked on the streets. "My counselling skills have helped me quite a lot... sitting with these women was in its own way quite, quite draining, it still is today... One thing is that I am part of a community that has judged them for too long. "

Lornah Kiplagat is an elite athlete, a long distance runner winning multiple world records and three-time Olympian. Lornah began her career when there were few women competing professionally and carved out a path for girls to follow after her. While starting her career, she set up a training school for girls in Iten, Kenya. Lornah is now turning her attention to those without medal winning talents and hopes to create a culture of fitness in Nairobi. She is the founder of the famous High Altitude Training Center. Combining her years of practical experience of using sports equipment, with a Kenyan eye for color, she has set up Lornah Sports, the first sportswear brand created by a female African athlete.

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