Laura Nyahuye is a talented Coventry artist and founder of Maokwo, a social enterprise exploring ways in which creativity can bring communities together.
Laura recently put on an incredibly successful and moving event at The Belgrade “I MIGRATED” on International Women’s Day. This included an exhibition of her stunning wearable art, striking photography, plus a remarkable series of performances including singing, spoken word, poetry and dance, plus some powerful talks addressing social issues.
We were lucky enough to meet Laura at the event and have since interviewed her to find out more about her own creative practice, and the impressive work she is doing in the community. Here’s what she has to say:
Tell us a little about the concept behind Maokwo
At Maokwo we use art and observational counselling as a vehicle for positive change. We work with women, migrant communities; our work reaches out to communities and individuals from all backgrounds. Our aim is to tackle isolation and mental health challenges. We promote integration and wellbeing in communities. Our services are very adaptable and broaden to families, children and local institutions where there is need. To top it all we support front line staff who work with migrant communities.
What I love about the Maokwo concept is that we work from experience. We have faced the hardships of life, we know what it is like to lack, to face domestic abuse, discrimination, tokenism, loss, isolation, mental abuse, we are that neighbour next door. Some call it working from the bottom up. We identify with our participants and the participants identify with us.
What inspired you to start this remarkable work in the community?
Personal challenges and conversations in community settings.
My personal journey since migrating from Zimbabwe has been full of challenges and positives – it’s a standalone book waiting to be written! The challenges l faced seemed to fan a fire within me.
During that challenging time, a woman (whom l now call Mom, she was truly God sent) encouraged me to get involved in community work offering art and craft activities. The more activities we offered more conversations came up! (I love talking and a good laugh!).
Most of the conversations struck a chord within me and before l knew it, the fire within became a blazing flame! There was a repetition of concerns everywhere I went. Lack of integration, isolation, domestic abuse, family issues, discrimination, mental health challenges, tick box issues to name a few. I felt so much at home in community groups from all backgrounds and vice versa, participants felt comfortable. We had many things in common.
Despite all the challenges two things helped me cope. It was my time Faith and my creative practice. As much as I identified with my participants, there was an inner strength that kept me going and it was those two points. (There is a creative writing at the current ‘I Migrate’ exhibition entitled ‘my faith my Sanity’ it touches on that)
As I was healing little by little I realised how this process can actually work for others.
In a nutshell, as I was going through the real life pains and struggles of life, and I sat down and cried with the fellow women in our community groups, Maokwo was being born – I just didn’t know it.
Yes, in life, challenges continue to come and go, however life has taught me, and continues to teach me, that there is beauty in the ashes of life. Keep going, somebody somewhere is waiting for you to take that step of faith and its well worth it.
What workshops are you currently running?
We are currently running ‘Breathe’ workshops at the Belgrade theatre every Friday from 11 to 2pm until the end the of March.
Breath encourages us to “press pause” and do something outside the normal day to day activities of life. Come and creatively express yourself . We are delivering workshops for CRMC – great partnerships coming up!
Where can people go to find out more about these?
People can visit our twitter page – @maokwo
Website address – https://www.maokwo.com/
Now about your own creative practice – what type of artist would you describe yourself as?
I see myself as an artist activist.
What inspires your own creativity?
My creativity is inspired by injustice and a desire to see hope and freedom in human lives. Women’s issues and community issues.
Tell us a little about the symbolism behind the striking body adornments that you had on display at The Belgrade
The body adornments are to raise awareness of what’s going on right now in the day to day life of a migrant woman. They are helping to showcase the innermost thoughts of a migrant woman. These are stories and intimate details you don’t get to hear over a cup of tea. They are stories that need to be told with some creativity. We are living in a society were migration should be a norm, unfortunately it’s the opposite.
I often wonder, what about the younger generation? Do I want them to face the same obstacles I faced as a migrant woman? NO!
So, as a mother and an artist what can I do to challenge perceptions and to educate the next generation. To highlight that we are ALL human with red blood flowing through our veins.
Body adornments, for centuries have been used to define cultural, social, or religious status in various communities. During my studies, adornments struck me as a symbol that have the potential to communicate various subjects or strike up conversations (I’ve had a lot of conversations as a result of wearing some of the adornments).
Body adornments are such are powerful means of communication. Look at the Masai tribe and the Kayan tribe. Interesting depiction of status and identity.
It fascinates me how body adornments are used by different cultures to communicate different messages. In my case I intend to use the handcrafted body adornments to tell various stories.
The body adornments are also on sale and can be made to order.
Have you any plans for future creative projects?
For the ‘I MIGRATED’ exhibition the plan is to migrate around the UK and eventually outside the UK.
For Maokwo workshops our partnerships are expanding and we are building more collaborative projects and that is exciting!
We have activist activities in the pipeline!
The “I MIGRATED exhibition will be on display at The Belgrade until 31st March 2018 .
See more details of Laura’s forthcoming workshops below: