Share with us your origin story: who are you and why does that matter?
I am an artist, a French woman of Congolese descent. Years ago, I used to work for an insurance company in Paris, but I didn’t really feel accomplished doing that. When I later became pregnant, the doctors advised me to stop working and to rest at home. There, I decided to do the only thing that I have always loved doing: drawing. I put my illustrations on my Instagram account [@nichollekobi] and through that, my brand NIKI’S GROOVE was developed.
However, my early experience in insurance taught me many things about business. Everything that I learned in my corporate career helps me in my brand. Now I know there are no accidents in life and that everything happens for a reason.
Your art features black women exclusively. What is it about black women that makes us such a rich source of inspiration?
In general: our strength, our beauty, our different shades; the ideas come as the days go by. Sometimes my inspiration comes from actuality, other times from my friends and my children, from social media, from fashion. My illustrations reflect who we are.
I can imagine that being a black anything is difficult in a place like Paris. Being a woman and an artist, doubly so. What’s been your experience as a member of multiple marginalized groups?
Growing up in my hometown of Normandy, I did not see racism. Everything was “normal” to me. I started to notice racism when I got older and moved to Paris. When I arrived there, I discovered the hidden side of France–the projects, which surprisingly enough is in the suburbs of Paris.
Right, because like many other major cities, race and economics are linked in Paris.
Yes. Most people who live in the heart of Paris are white and in the Parisian suburbs, there are a lot of minorities–Arab-French, African-French, mostly. Some of the suburbs are the cheapest places in France and the poverty is so high.
Most of the time, people would be implicitly racist, or would use racism to be funny. But this kind of humor goes against black women: our hair, the way we do this or do that. Another thing is how people like to make differences between black women. I have been told that I am “pretty for a black woman” too many times and that only can be a source of animosity between black women.
What has been the general reception of your art? What kind of fan have you been the most surprised by?
I have been positively surprised by the great support that I have had throughout my last tour. I saw so many black, empowered, educated and creative women support me. We must stick together, that is how we will take back our rightful place in the world of beauty, art and more. We can be whatever we want!
Which artists are you checking for right now?
Jean Michel Basquiat, Rene Gruau, Garance Doré
When you’re not creating art, what else do you like to do? Who is Nicholle outside of her artwork?
My art and my children take up most of my time, but I am very spiritual, and I love doing yoga.
What should we be expecting from you next?
I am currently working with Hallmark on an exclusive art collection focusing on black women, love and friendship. Next month, I’m launching the Black Woman Art Series Tour. We’re starting in Brazil and Canada and then visiting 30 cities all over the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia. Check my website periodically for dates!
What advice do you have for your fellow black women artists?
Practice, practice, practice as much as you can!
As you know, AYO is all about profiling black female joy. What brings you joy? What advice do you have for other black women in search of their own joy?
My art is a form of self-care. With my children, my art is what brings me joy. In order to find your own joy, you have to take care of yourself: Listen to your inner self. Trust your intuition. Pray. Do what you love. Eat healthy!
All images/photos courtesy of Nicholle Kobi