Artist Spotlight: Laura Nyahuye

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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!

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Where can people go to find out more about these?

People can visit our twitter page – @maokwo

Instagram pages – @maokwo or @laura_nyahuye

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.

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 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 .28795864_1630410190368635_9142424792298793102_n

See more details of Laura’s forthcoming workshops below:

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create and talk for young workshops

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Artist Spotlight: Melissa Smith

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Melissa Smith is a talented local Doodle artist, the founder of the Coventry based “Feel Good Community”, and an inspirational social activist who endorses the importance of creativity to health and wellbeing. We have had the pleasure of interviewing her to find out more about her creative practice, and the wonderful, positive work that she does in the community to help her promote her cause.

How did you first get into Doodle Art?

My school days were when I first discovered my love for doodling. However, as I matured doodling became less frequent. I re-discovered my passion when I had a teaching role and was asked to deliver art to my students, many of whom believed they were not creative. I used doodle art as a way to help them explore their creativity and started to realise once again just how powerful it can be. When I became poorly in 2014 I was able to focus more on my doodles as I had more time on my hands. When I was recovering in hospital I picked up my pen to pass the time. I was amazed at how good it made me feel, how it helped me to refocus my mind away from my pain. I started creating quotes and pictures that I gave to those who were helping me. As I wasn’t working and money was tight Christmas and birthday presents had a creative twist. Most of my family and friends have been doodled in some way.

You can view my Stellar Story here with broader coverage of my work and tells my journey.

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Was the skill all self-taught?

Very much so, YouTube and social media have helped me to develop and look into different styles. There is a wealth of information out there. I doodle most days and have become a firm believer that practise makes perfect and mistakes are all part of the learning process. My doodles have also been developed through a journey of self-discovery. Because of my illness I find it hard to attend meetings and events as often the pain becomes too much. I picked up my pen as a way to refocus my mind away from the pain and on what was being said. This helped me to regain my confidence as I could then use the information from my doodles to start conversations.

What inspires you to create your work?

Feeling good is the main catalyst for my work. Initially, it is self-centred as I use it as a tool to refocus my mind away from my pain and as a way to increase my wellbeing. More importantly I like to use my art as a way to inspire others to get creative in some way.

Are there any other Doodle Artists who you draw inspiration from?

Yes plenty! But I think local talent should get a shout out…

Spudragon who calls himself the accidental artist found the benefits of doodling when he became poorly. He doodles as a way to help him relieve his stress and anxiety. https://www.instagram.com/spudragon/

Sabina from Meraki Workshops inspires me as she uses doodling as an interactive experience for community workshops https://www.instagram.com/merakiworkshops/

Lucy Kenny came along to one of our ideas factories, I had admired her robots on the wall of Fargo Village for some time so was nice to meet the artist who doodled them https://www.instagram.com/lilustrations/

What tools do you use to create your work?

Pens, paper, watercolour and collage are what I use the most. However, I have just started to explore the digital side, I purchased a Wacom pen and Adobe Creative Cloud. I am very much a work in progress!

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Do you create commissioned work?

For a long time I didn’t have the confidence to call myself an artist. I believed that as I didn’t have an art degree I was not able to call myself an artist. However people’s response to my creations has been extremely positive and I have started to receive requests for commissions. Instagram and word of mouth have been brilliant for this.

What motivated you to create the Feel Good Community?

The Feel Good community started life as a solution to get me focusing on the things I can do rather than the things I can’t since becoming poorly. We started by having Feel Good Walks in the park. These quickly developed into walks and creative activities over a brew and cake! Each event starts life at an Ideas Factory: an informal meet-up where people can come together and share their ideas, skills and resources as a solution to issues we face.

What types of activities do you do?

We have had a variety of events and workshops that all look at ways we can use creativity and community as a focus to increase wellbeing. We often make Feel Good random acts of kindness, mainly out of things we have lying at home and Feel Good gifts that are designed to give to the people who help us to remind them they are valued. We have run a couple of workshops where we make Feel Good rocks and Feel Good Monsters. These are perfect as we can create characters and discuss feelings and hopes. We recently ran a Makers Meet Up where folk came together to get creative making feel good messages for our festival

What have you got planned for the Feel Good Festival of Creativity at Fargo Village on Sat 11th November 2017?

At our Ideas Factory we had over 60 ideas generated and approximately 30 people pledge their support to help us develop The Feel Good Festival of Creativity. This is an opportunity for the community to come together to creatively explore different ways we can increase wellbeing. On the day we have several workshops and drop in sessions planned ranging from mosaic making, sewing, animation, doodling, drama, music, spoken word, random acts of kindness and making doodle books. The event is completely powered by the community with zero funding so the more people we can get involved the better the event will be! We are hoping it will be a catalyst for more events like this in the future.

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Have you got any more events in the pipeline?

Our first Makers Meet-up was a success and we have received requests to hold more meet-ups. We will be organising more Feel Good in the Park events. More importantly we need to see what the community want so we will be organising more Ideas Factories

What are the future plans for the Feel Good Community?

It is my aim to turn Feel Good into a social enterprise. I recently received funding from Unltd to help develop a range of Feel Good products. The sale of these products will hopefully fund future events and create jobs for people who would like to get involved with the feel Good Movement.

How can people get involved?

We are always on the lookout for people to get involved either with our events, collaborations or help with organising. If anyone is interested please get in touch with me mel@feelgoodcom.org

Like our page on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/feelgoodcreatives/

Share and come to our event: http://bit.ly/FGCFestivalofCreativity

Follow along on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/feelgoodinsta/

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