Interviewed at her home by Sandra Grady
21 April 2011

Zena Abdallah Walakai was born in Mwanza in western Tanzania. Her father is originally from Rwanda and her mother is from northern Tanzania, but Zena grew up in Mwanza and moved to Dar es-Salaam along the Indian Ocean coast after she finished school. She originally came to Ohio through the Tanzanian Women Artists Network, organized by Martin Nagy through the Great Lakes Consortium. During her time on this exchange program, she exhibited her work in the Toledo area, and discovered the Fine Arts program at Siena Heights University. A year later, she returned to the area to begin her Bachelors degree at Siena Heights and currently resides in Toledo.

Zena paints, creates beadwork, sculpts, and works in clothing design. Prior to her training in the US, Zena learned her skills both formally and informally. She developed her skills in beadwork by working with other women in that craft, and she received a certificate in sculpture from the Bagamoyo Sculpture School. She is self-taught as a clothing designer.

Because of her studies at Siena Heights, Zena’s work has moved from more traditional African forms into more naturalistic techniques she is learning in school. Zena has three more years of school, and currently sells her art work mostly through networks of people who have seen it already through the Great Lakes Consortium or Siena Heights, although she is interested in expanding her sales to a larger clientele. She would ultimately like to make her living as an artist, and help other Tanzanians to develop their artistic skills.

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