Vanessa Haarhoff grew up in Zimbabwe but it was while studying for a BSc in Human Movement Sciences in South Africa that she suffered a spinal injury, resulting in tetraplegia. During rehabilitation in a South African spinal unit Vanessa began to paint by holding a brush in her mouth. Her efforts were submitted to the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists who accepted Vanessa as a Student Artist. Alongside developing her art, she returned to Rhodes University to study journalism and politics. She lived and worked in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia as a journalist and enjoyed painting the unique nature and landscapes. After relocating to the UK Vanessa continued her studies, changing courses to read an MSc in International Development at the University of Bristol and became involved with the British Mouth & Foot Painting Artists.
Vanessa has taken part in a fundraising event for the charity Back Up, which enables spinally injured people to take part in sports that they thought were no longer available to them. Vanessa has twice assembled a fifteen strong team and together they pushed and pulled her to the summit of Mount Snowdon. The experiences, severely hampered by dreadful conditions, made Vanessa aware of the scope there is for raising awareness and financial support for spinally injured people in impoverished countries, especially Zimbabwe, where the overriding concerns are access to health care and wheelchairs. She has also been involved as secretary for a non profit called Uhambo which locally builds bespoke wheelchairs for severely disabled children that operating in the rural areas of Southern Africa.
She lives independently with her carer and a cat in Bristol where she has immersed herself in the art scene.