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Nikolle Hellis exhibits at Black History Month event

This Black History Month exhibition at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall marks the long-awaited relaunch of the Civic Gallery. The exhibition showcases local talent and organisations to celebrate London’s diverse heritage. The BHM show is a collaboration with local curators, gallerists, artists and arts organisations, with community engagement and participation a priority.

Local artists and artist groups who are showcasing their work are EFX, J-M Gallery, Isis Amlak, Glue, Portobello Dance Studio and 50 Golborne.

We chatted with Nikolle Hellis, WAES Graphic Design tutor and artist with the EFX artist collective.

How did you get involved with this exhibition?

“About a month ago we were asked to do a gallery exhibition for the opening of the Town Hall Civic Gallery, for Black History Month, and then we were told it was the mayor opening so we’re really excited!”

Can you tell me a bit about your art, and what BHM means to you?

“Basically, I was brought up as a mixed race child in Sussex, and brought up in a white family so my mum, dad, brother and sisters were white, the village I lived in was white, the school was white. I suffered a lot of racial abuse and I really started to hate myself because I didn’t have anyone else to relate to.

I had issues with my hair, and it’s funny one of the picture up there is Grace Jones, and as a teenager they used to cut my hair really short because nobody knew how to deal with my hair so people would always be like ‘are you a boy, are you a boy’. I was really tall and skinny which made it worse. So I just had issues with my colour.

On my work it says ‘the artwork grew out of pain’ so it’s all about being different. Lots of my art is kind of exaggerated with the lips and the eyes. My digital work is cutting and pasting the lips and the eyes, and I might have made the nose a little bit bigger, but I’m not trying to make something ‘ugly’. I’m trying to over-exaggerate something and then add the colours and make it look like a piece of beautiful art that could go on the wall. I love pop art as well so all my work is very bright and brash. It’s a mixture my digital art is photography, collage, working in photoshop and illustrator. I love to paint and I’ve rediscovered how much I love to paint.”

How does it feel to be creating and showcasing your art?

“I’m just enjoying the whole process of being creative and just going with it. Especially with the lockdown, it makes you realise that life’s too short. I’ve been thinking about this for so many years but teaching takes up a lot of my time, and obviously I’m so thrilled to see my students developing and they’re going out and doing this and that.

My friend Loretta pushed me into the last one that we had in Portobello Road. I’d said no to her quite a few times because I was saying I didn’t have time and I was also really anxious and didn’t want to show my work and all this sort of stuff. But we did it and the response was really good so that’s inspired me to carry on with it.”