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Lilongwe, Malawi


Kristen Palana is an American/Portuguese multidisciplinary artist based in Malawi. After decades as a digital artist, in 2021 she reconnected with her fine art roots. Inspired by the lofty mission statements used by the world’s top organizations, her mixed media drawings are a call to action to visualize better outcomes for our lives, communities, and the planet. Kristen’s earlier animations have screened at over 75 international film festivals, earning numerous “Best Animated Short Film” awards, including at the Cannes Short Film Festival, Italy International Film Festival, and Sunscreen Film Festival.

As an educator, Kristen has taught at universities on four continents. She co-founded the Film and Digital Media BFA at The American University of Rome, where she was tenured and led the Film and Digital Media Program between 2013-2016. From 2016 to 2019, Kristen expanded her teaching to academic institutions and NGOs in Myanmar, including at the groundbreaking American University of Myanmar. Founded in 2014, this institution posed such a challenge to the individuals now leading the current military government that it was unfortunately forced to close in 2018.

When not making fine art, Kristen works as a designer, educator, and consultant for international agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), The British High Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Food Programme (WFP), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and The Australian High Commission. Kristen crafts training programs catering to diverse audiences, and since 2014, she has also reached over 80,000 online students from 191 countries. Her learners range from refugees and diplomats to individuals without formal education living on less than $2 USD a day, reflecting Kristen’s commitment to inclusivity and empowerment.


I draw the world not as it is but how I wish it could be. I use symbols, icons, and patterns with cross-cultural significance combined with color psychology to help soothe, heal, and reinvigorate weary idealists. Inspired by the lofty mission statements and development goals used by the world’s top organizations, my images are a call to action to visualize better outcomes for our lives, communities, and the planet.

As an American/Portuguese digital artist and animator living in developing countries over the past seven years, my creative process has gradually been shaped by a lack of reliable internet connectivity and frequent power outages. Since 2021, I’ve reconnected with my fine art roots and now delight in making “slow art” off the grid that requires no electricity or glowing screens. Each mark placed in a drawing mimics the stitches that lovingly make up an elaborate quilt or the single frames that slowly add up to a few minutes of animation.

In my mixed media work, I layer colors, lines, and dots using fine-tipped ink and watercolor brush pens with dabs of acrylic and metallic paint on vellum or canvas. The drawing process is a form of meditation that enables me to tap into a higher level of consciousness and rich artistic traditions that are thousands of years old. I’m especially drawn to the intricate patterns and vibrant colors found in Asian and African traditional clothing, baskets, ceramics, and local handicrafts made from raw and natural materials. Western influences include stained-glass windows as well as the bold dark outlines and visual framing structures found in cartoons and graphic novels.
IG: @kristen.palana_arts

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