Karen Alleyne is a self-taught artist who currently lives in London. Her art explores the beauty and complexity of the African Diaspora, inspired by living between Barbados and the UK, Karen express’s the duality of my identity through a postmodern lens.


My artwork delves, shifts, manipulates, interrogates and pushes the boundaries of identity in a post-modern world and examines how they relate to the diaspora from a woman’s perspective.

I have not always looked at myself as an artist. Up until two years ago, I was a Marketing Manager working at a property development company who liked to paint in her spare time and that is how I identified myself. However, after painting for fun and posting my work across social media, I started to gain some real interest  from people across the world and that is when my self-label started to shift from “Karen who likes to paint” to “Karen the artist”

And as soon as I resigned my internal label and looked at myself as an artist, the roller coaster of fun-filled journeys began,  demand for my paintings grew and Oya Arts were formed. 

In the short space of two years, I have gone from painting in my bedroom to working on a range of exciting projects and commissions for clients in the UK, USA, and Caribbean. If you asked me five years ago, where I would be today, I could have only dreamed to have this answer, so I am so grateful that I have turned a passion into a growing business. However, it has not always been this easy and for me pursuing a career in the arts was never an option.

I grew up in London in the ’80s and ’90s to Caribbean parents and because of the lack of opportunity, or perceived lack of opportunity in the art world for people of colour, It always seemed like an inaccessible career choice. Even when I got accepted into the London College of Fashion, I chose to go down an academic route, because there was an unwritten rule that was ingrained within my psyche and sentiment that made me feel that the art world was not for me. As a young black girl from North West London and daughter of Barbadian Immigrants, I needed an academic background to fall back on because  I had to work twice as hard and be twice a good. It was a cruel world and I was conditioned to survive in it. So dreams for me were a pipeline. It was all about survival and I couldn’t survive with just the brush alone. OR so I thought… 

 However, it was when I moved to Barbados in my early 20’s that I started to see the world and understand it from a different vantage point. For the first time in my life I was not in the minority and with that layer of angst stripped away I was inadvertently given the freedom to explore my sense of self with the label of blackness as a prohibitive force removed. For the first time, I was surrounded by people who looked like me that we’re making some serious moves and guess what, some of them were making these moves in the art world. That was when the penny dropped and I realised that the art world was for me. It may not be ready for me, but I was going to do whatever it took to carve out my space within in no matter how small that space was. 

This is how the concept of Oya arts was born. Oya is one of the most powerful African Goddesses (Orishas), A Warrior-Queen. Much of Oya’s power is rooted in the natural world; She is the Goddess of thunder, lightning, tornadoes, winds, rainstorms, and hurricanes. Oya is the protectress of women and a patron of feminine leadership. Fiercely loving, She is wildly unpredictable, passionate, fearless, sensual and independent. This encapsulated my story and my journey to follow my passion.

As soon as changed my environment it shifted my internal labels and this was enough for me to understand myself as an artist. My limiting beliefs that were formed as a result of experiences of growing up in London were removed during my time living in the Caribbean. Now with this new direction, I started to create art which challenged perceptions and stereotypes of race and gender.

My work looks at the concept of identity but also space and how we react to it and engage with it. I have a juxtaposition of Afrocentric and European imagery within my work and this eclectic mix is set to evoke emotion and is centred around change and shift.  In the future, I hope to continue to grow my international footprint. I am currently working on some really exciting projects in the USA and I am in the process of organising a series of art exhibitions in the UK, Barbados and the USA, so as they stay to watch this space!

My biggest highlight so far was selling my first painting. It was so significant because It was unexpected and I was not ready for it. This is my highlight for two reasons. Firstly because it was a milestone that validated my efforts. I went from Karen who painted in her spare time, to Karen the artist.  Secondly, it keeps me grounded and reminds me every day that things don’t happen necessarily when you plan or when you are ready for them, but they happen when the time is right with the universe. All I have to do is show up!  So now, I take nothing for granted and if an opportunity comes my way, regardless if I am ready or not, I make sure I get ready in time. 

The appreciation of diversity. Women bring a range of different experiences, outlooks, and stories to the game, however, we are still not valued and respected in the same way as our male counterparts, and this struggle is also doubled if you are a woman of colour.

 There is a stereotype associated with entrepreneurship that is inherently male, however, the reality is that Women entrepreneurs bring a particular set of skills that not only set us apart but also lend us to being extremely successful. Yet despite our abilities, we face a range of barriers that stop many of us in engaging in entrepreneurship. I mean if we manage to put the macho stereotypes of what it means to run a business to the back of our minds then we still face the real problem of male-dominated decision making in the world of business financing. I read an article recently that sited two-thirds of women had not been taken seriously by investors when trying to raise money for a new venture. I know that to be the case in my experience also. So as well as mental blocks we have to push past those physical ones before we can even open up for business.

 Despite some of the boundaries to running your own business, It is one of the most fulfilling things that you can do. I would say to any young woman who wants to go down this route, to do it and forget any preconceived ideas you have or what people tell you that you can and can’t do. Work hard to bring your ideas to fruition. The world is full of people trying to conform to a certain set of  “rules of engagement” the real game changers are those who keep their sense of self throughout their business. Your personality is your brand and you should never compromise this at any time. The biggest stumbling block to your success is self-doubt. Your words are powerful, so speak it into existence and watch it unfold. Replace the I wish to I will and know that your uniqueness combined with hard work, planning, research, dedication, self-confidence, and persistence is your currency to success. If a self-taught girl with no formal art training from Harrow can do this and showcase and sell her art internationally then you can do whatever you put your mind to. Just believe, work towards it, speak life into it and it will be.



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