RARE  RISINGSTARS - The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 10


Horcelie Sinda Wa Mbongo

Contemporary Art
Sotheby’s Institute of Art
Charity and Social Activism

Olamide Dada

Horcelie is an activist, campaigner and artist. Horcelie moved to the UK with her parents aged 9 after being raised in Kinshasa for the early part of her life. The move was difficult for Horcelie as she only spoke French and her native tongue upon arrival in the UK. A year later, her parents’ separation meant Horcelie had to move to a new primary school, an experience which further affected her ability to settle in. At the age of 11, Horcelie and her mother discovered that she was HIV positive from birth.

Horcelie had developed a passion for art at a young age, and remembers being commended for her work in primary school as the moment which fuelled her interest in the subject. Her interest developed further in Sixth Form when her art teacher was able to see potential in her work and encouraged Horcelie to apply to Central Saint Martins, a college no one in her class aspired to. With her teacher’s support, she was able to put together a portfolio and was eventually offered a one-year foundation course at the prestigious college in Fine Art painting. Horcelie enjoyed her experience at the college and used it as an opportunity to develop and learn more about her work. After completing the foundation year, she then went on to Chelsea College of Arts to study her BA in Fine Art.

However, during the second year of her degree, she found herself questioning her work and the opportunities available for her within the industry. That summer, she decided to volunteer with the International Citizenship Service in South Africa, which she viewed as a life-changing experience. Over a period of three months, she worked in schools with other volunteers, facilitating discussions around HIV/AIDS and sexual reproductive health. Returning, Horcelie was inspired to carry on her community work in the UK.

“It’s about taking courage… it’s part of my life and it’s time to take up the cross instead of wasting time blaming.”

Back at university, Horcelie began volunteering with an organisation called Youth Stop Aids. With the organisation, she went to events in Dundee, Leeds, Sheffield and London and shared her story whilst educating people on HIV/AIDs. During that time, she also enrolled herself in the Miss Congo UK beauty pageant, which she ended up winning. As the winner, Horcelie was able to speak at multiple charity events and do a lot of community work representing the pageant. However, Horcelie was forced to quit her role as pageant queen a few months later as she struggled to balance the commitments with studying for her finals and working two jobs.

On completing her degree, Horcelie resumed her campaigning efforts and was able to travel to America with the Student Campaign Against Aids, speaking at universities in New York, Connecticut and Boston, including a keynote speech at Harvard University. A week later, Horcelie delivered a TedxTalk at Newcastle University where she spoke about her HIV/AIDs journey, artwork, Christian faith, spirituality and black identity. Later that year, Horcelie revisited South Africa to attend an AIDS conference, which inspired her to start her own campaign in her home nation of Congo.

When Horcelie came back to the UK, she fundraised £1500 and successfully planned and ran a one-month campaign in Congo alongside another volunteer in the summer of 2019. The campaign saw her visit hospitals, schools, orphanages and conferences to lead talks and panels on the issue of HIV/AIDs and sexual reproductive health. Horcelie estimates she spoke to around 500 people in that period. After that experience, Horcelie is in the process of setting up her own organisation called Lobiko ya Congo, meaning ‘a hope for Congo’, and running more campaigns in the region. Currently, she is fundraising £5000 and is planning to expand her team to around 5 volunteers, to support the running of a three-week campaign in Ghana, followed by a two-month campaign in Congo.

Horcelie is planning all this whilst completing her Master’s degree, which is partly funded through a £16,000 grant from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art due to her impressive performance at interview. Horcelie is also hoping to produce more of her artwork, which explores her Christian faith, spirituality and black identity, within the coming months.

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