Being a Black woman can be hard. Despite our ability to thrive in spite of the challenges we face, sometimes being expected to be strong, powerful, and independent takes its toll on our mental and physical health. Still, as Mother Maya said, we rise.
Black women around the globe are making strides in education, business, and the arts, and a lot of that is due to the efforts of every day women who celebrate their sisters. In the U.K., Black folks make up just three percent of the population, but their contributions to the rich history and culture of the nation are innumerable.
In London, the nation’s capital, Black female artists are not only getting their work out to the masses, but they’re also supporting together.
“It’s inspiring. I see so many other Black women going forth with initiatives, business ideas, creative ventures and its all so inspiring,” says Nicole Crentsil, the curator of a new art exhibit called Unmasked Women, which explores the Black British female experience. “Were collaborating in new more accessible ways and it makes it much easier to carry out projects like mine.”
Recently, EBONY.com spoke with Crentsil about the inspiration for the exhibit, which features the work of 10 Black female artists, and why she chose to single-handedly bring the Unmasked Women exhibit to life.
EBONY.com: Where did the inspiration for the Unmasked Women exhibit come from?
Nicole Crentsil: It really came from my own experiences mixed with my passion for art and design. My mother is a seamstress and dressmaker, my brother is a textile print designer, and I also have a BA degree in Product Design from Nottingham Trent University, so design and creatively has always been in my blood. I really wanted to marry my love for art with my passion for meaningful issues that many Black women could relate to and would want to discuss.
EBONY.com: Why did you choose to focus on mental health?
Nicole Crentsil: It’s a topic which is not so heavily expressed in the arts. Many people fail to understand what it means—which is no fault of theirs. It’s important to find ways to allow more people to understand mental health in a way that is freely expressive and creative. Mental Health within the Black British community is stigmatized as being a taboo and non-existent. I want Unmasked Woman to spark a much-needed conversation to bring mental health to the forefront of this discussion.
EBONY.com: I noticed the website says, “The first theme…” Is this going to be a recurring exhibit?
Nicole Crentsil: Yes hopefully, if time permits. I would love to talk about other issues relating to the Black British experience like sexual health, racism, self love and self worth. Our experiences are so vast that I could find myself doing this for a long time.
EBONY.com: What would you like visitors to take away after seeing the show?
Nicole Crentsil: I would really love for visitors to have a better understanding of Black mental health and what experiences people have endured. I want them to understand how local authorities, charities and community groups can better support Black women and what more as individuals we can do to help.
I also want young Black women who may have never been able to face or address any issues they may have and really find a space where they feel safe and welcomed to discuss. I want Black women to know that it’s okay, not to be okay.
EBONY.com: How did you choose the artists?
Nicole Crentsil: I carefully selected each artist based on their artwork and ability, but also met with each of them to really break down exactly what the project was about. I wanted the artist to be as passionate about the topic as I was and evidently got to know them all as close friends.
It wasn’t enough to have beautiful artwork, it meant more to me that each artist has visually and verbally expressive in their thoughts on mental health. Quite interestingly every artist was found via Twitter. I have to big up Twitter for being my most reliable and best platform for this entire project.
EBONY.com: Have you always been into art? Your Twitter bio says you’re also a curator, how’d you get into it?
Nicole Crentsil: Yes, I’ve always been into art. I spend most weekends attending art galleries and exhibitions or dragging my friends to them!
To be honest, I didn’t really know what to call what I was doing. I just had an idea to bring all these people together into one space. I’ve never really been a curator before, its a title I just gave myself whilst working on Unmasked Women. I feel like Twitter allows you to profile yourself as whomever, so I chose curator. I’ve been working on Unmasked since January so I saw it fit to give myself that title.
EBONY.com: You work full time and are producing this show single-handedly, why is it so important to bring it to life?
Nicole Crentsil: It’s a passion! Although I say that Unmasked Women is a very social project in that it brings many people together, it is also a very personal one. It has been a source of my own creative therapy and I’m not sure where I will be without it when it’s done.
EBONY.com: You’ve partnered with CoolTan Arts and Black British Girlhood, why?
Nicole Crentsil: It was really important to work with a charity that promoted creativity as a source of therapy for people suffering with mental health issues. I wanted to invite them into a completely new space. CoolTan Arts put together a great program for Black History month [which happens in October in the UK] and it seemed fitting to work with them on this.
Black British Girlhood are an amazing bunch of creatives. It’s a project that connects and showcases Black British girls and young women in the arts and other creative expressions. It seems fitting to involve them into this project, plus they are really passionate about Mental Health and wanted to be part of this discussion.
They put together a really great zine-making workshop a few weeks ago and I’ve invited them to do another alongside CoolTan Art, which will be exhibited at their Black History month exhibition.
What I like most about these partnerships is that it opens doors for each other and allows for cross partnership/promotion to occur.
EBONY.com: What’s it like being a Black woman in London right now?
Nicole Crentsil: It’s inspiring. I see so many other Black women going forth with initiatives, business ideas, creative ventures and its all so inspiring. Were collaborating in new more accessible ways and it makes it much easier to carry out projects like mine. I’ve met some extraordinary Black women since starting Unmasked Women and it’s been amazing – some real friends for life.
Umasked Women takes places September 2-4 at The Artworks Elephant in London. Get tickets here.