Interview by Lauren Ash. Illustrations by Niki Kobe.
When I first had visions of Black Girl In Om, I saw a beautiful image that served as a powerful visualization of what I hoped to manifest. This image, created by Niki Kobe of Niki's Groove, conveys three black women cultivating wellness through yoga. They look peaceful, happy, and calm. I saved this image as the background on my phone and only recently changed it (to another image of a black, female yogi, go figure)! Looking at Niki's image multiple times a day inspired me. And as I delved more into Niki Groove's artwork on her Instagram I was inspired by images of black women doing, well, everything: walking their dogs, playing with their children, combing their hair, going for a walk with their friends...the list goes on. I was curious to learn more about just why Niki felt it important to convey the various dimensions of our lives, and what her experience is like as a black-French female artist. I hope you enjoy learning more about Niki's Groove and that you feel inspired by all that she represents through her work!
LA: I'm so excited to connect with you! I am excited about featuring you in our Celebration issue because your illustrations celebrate black women in our various textures, hues, shapes, and sizes. What first influenced your focus on black women in your art?
NK: First, I focus on this because I am a black woman. My desire to focus on black women is simply because I had the impression that they are excluded from the greater world of beauty, art, fashion, and especially in the intellectual sphere. Some people have the tendency to think that we are the exception in these types of spheres. They very rarely hold black women in high regard; they criticize and analyze her curves, her skin color, and her hair texture [by comparing these images with the images created by the majority white media]. And I am here just to try to give [black woman] back her rightful place in the world of beauty, art, and more. We are not less than other women. We are beautiful with our curves, our skin tones from the most light to the most dark. We can be whatever we want!
LA: I absolutely agree! I think it's lovely that you create artwork by request and illustrate real women from all over the world! Do you have a favorite story that someone shared with you when they asked you to illustrate her friend or sister?
NK: I received an email from a young black girl who had a skin problem. Her condition left her with skin tone more light than that of white people, while on the other hand she had nice, thick afro. She wrote me to thank me for my black and white drawings because they reminded her that she is a beautiful black woman just like other black women despite her condition (albinism).
LA: Beautiful! This, again, demonstrates the power that your work conveys to black women of all shades. There is so much positive response to your work! When you first began, did you anticipate this positive response? How do the comments on your Instagram make you feel?
NK: Oh my God, I am so grateful to have had no bad comments! I could have never imagined so many positive responses. Of course this makes me feel really good and motivates me to continue!
LA: We all hope you do, Niki! You are a French-based artist. Generally speaking, what is life like as a black, female artist in France? How is your art received in France?
NK: You know, in France, there is a big problem with hypocrisy. Not everyone likes when you do something for people who look like you, except when it consists of white people doing things for other white people. In France they are about communitarianism, the connection between the individual and the larger community. We are encouraged to do everything in accordance with European French people, but not in accordance with Black French people because if we do, we would be considered “not completely French.” For this reason, I don’t have much experience with white, European French art.
When I sent my profile to art agencies they rarely responded and when they did respond it was always along the lines of “your art is too ethnic or ethnic identifiable.” France is a very old country with a lot of problems. However, black French women are beginning, little-by-little, to follow me on my social network which will allow my work to be more accessible to the rest of France. I won’t give up!
LA: Please don’t! So, it seems that for you being an artist certainly brings joy, but also brings some challenges. How do you take care of yourself and cultivate self-care and wellness? Does your art also serve as a form of self-care?
NK: Of course my art is a form of self-care. I am also very spiritual, faithful and love sports and yoga, too.
LA: Thank you so much, Niki! I hope to join you for some yoga in France, one day!
This interview has been translated.