You may remember that this summer I attended My Sugar Island which was CaribArt Collections exhibition hosted at the Trinidad & Tobago High Commission. I may be biased but the calibre of work was second to none. The stories and the creativity made me nostalgic for my home region. While the exhibition, I spent some time speaking with Yasmin Nicholas, we exchanged stories and experiences about ‘home’ and dialects and traditional national wear. In the summer Yasmin had a solo exhibition at the Elizabeth James Gallery in South Norwood, London. Unfortunately I was unable to attend, to view her new works but I had to share her story with you. This is Yasmin Nicholas’ interview.
About Yasmin Nicholas
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Yasmin Nicholas, i’m 24 years old and I’m from North West London from a mixed West Indian Background, I’m also based in London.
How would you describe your art?
I dabble in many mediums including painting, photography in which I would classify myself as a mixed media contemporary artist however the main theme I use in my work are words, mostly poetry about Caribbean culture, identity within London, heritage, relationships and experimenting with my native language of Kwéyòl (Dominican and St Lucian). It is very rewarding learning a language especially a mother tongue and a language which is not colonially recognised as you can experiment with the most dominant language being English and even change roles.
I also use ‘breadfruit’ as a symbolism and metaphor for the language and cultures status. Language is very much on the forefront of my work, it’s relationship when it is linked with image and also alone and the energy it brings with it.
What inspires your work?
Caribbean culture and heritage in an ever changing London, identity, daily situations, also my grandparents, being Dominican nationals, were so fond to tell me folktales and stories about ’back home’, Other influences are of artists such as Glenn Ligon, Shirin Neshat and Keith Piper who use text and calligraphy as and within their work however I can honestly say my grandfather was my inspiration into writing stories and poems. His stories about Dominica were always insightful.
Everything I feel or see comes out in words and how I can position those words and poems. For the Kwéyòl language, the inspiration was the fact it is more spoken than written, the language has always had a secretive status and my grandfather always used to tell me he was discouraged from speaking as a child at school, as it was only right to speak English. However, especially that by starting to learn it myself and add to it to my text and artwork, I felt a sense of rebellion against language structure and to try to put it on a contemporary global art scene. My father has been a great help with teaching me as well.
Where is your ideal work space and what’s your ambience preference?
Well, where I do most of my work is at home unless it’s photography and I prefer to play some music whether it be hip hop, jazz or reggae, sometimes it helps me concentrate especially jazzy/ conscious hip hop, maybe it’s the flow of the words.
Do you have a routine when you are working towards an exhibition?
YN: This solo has actually been my first ever, but during this and past group shows , I have learnt to try and write what I need to start with first and then what to get onto next and new ideas I write last so I don’t mess up what I need to sort out before then so I don’t confuse myself because sometimes I do.
Your current solo exhibition is entitled ‘Finding Home’, what is your idea of home?
I believe home can be a metaphor for what you love the most. As I also use, it could also reside with language, i.e : a mother tongue. I am born and bred here so it would be Britain but Dominica is ‘back home’ as I have been brought up to know and our true ancestral home which is the motherland. I believe your true home is the place that you reside with the most within your heart.
How does language influence your art in ‘Finding Home’?
It fits with the theme perfectly, going back to your last question, it resides as a metaphor, trying to speak and learn my mother tongue makes me feel more connected to my mother country. Using it in different forms of mediums feels very rewarding. Also using language overall, as it is all, poems, are coming from me, my thoughts and feelings.
What has been the most rewarding feedback you have had about your work.
I could say that it was from the High Commissioner of Dominica Ms Janet Charles when she came to my private view and congratulated me, as a young person of Dominican descent doing artwork that reflects the love of ‘back home’ so much, it’s culture and heritage. It made me feel even more at ‘home’ even more as a 3rd generation.