High Street in Swansea is regenerating faster than Doctor Who. It’s exciting to watch it transform into something culturally zestful and independent – an alternative to the usual vanilla high street shopping experience. Volcano Theatre Company has played an integral part in this thoughtful process and is now happily settled in The Iceland Building at 27-29 High Street. Alongside their own performance work and events, they also host work by other artists and performers. So it is here I find myself on a sunny Wednesday afternoon visiting Nazma Botanica’s first solo exhibition, ‘Eco Warriors’.
I first met Nazma, a Surface Pattern Design graduate from University of Wales Trinity Saint David, at an event in The Environment Centre. She’s an eco-artist and very passionate about nature (not just green nature, but also the urban environment including the rest of us human beings). Her art is very sincere, she’s not afraid to show vulnerability and this makes it all the more poignant. We are allowed to share a challenging (sometimes harrowing) journey of the mind that offers up the opportunity to discuss our own dusty piles of issues that we keep swept under the proverbial carpet.
“This is Play”, says a bold yellow sign as you enter the room – this child-like theme is also evident in the beautiful and charming garden made out of paper and fabric that greets visitors. This makes for a nirvana themed welcome leading to a captivating collection of collage warriors. Each warrior has been created with images, paint and Nazma’s own photographs. It’s only when you take the time to look closely at the collages that you get a sense of the depth and deliberation in each piece.
Nazma is very honest about the story behind her work. She talks about being bedridden with anxiety and depression. Unable to sleep or paint, she made collage warriors that began a cathartic process of finding herself again. The fact that this is documented for all to see allows us to join her as she looks reflectively at work produced during what was quite a dark time. Yet there’s nothing gloomy about the exhibition and Nazma’s strength is a beacon that guides us though each piece. The warriors tap into her own internal battles and also the battles faced by nature – bees, trees, the tobacco industry and aging. It asks what ‘eco-warrior’ means to each of us and challenges us to face the conflicts in our changing habitat. Death is a recurrent theme but again, not in a depressing way. It symbolises Nazma’s slow rebirth and the shedding (or perhaps understanding) of the suffocating complexities of mental illness. Despite the fragility of life, we keep going. And this stoicism is reflected in Nazma’s warriors and in herself.
Nazma chatted to me about when she was a young child watching her father escape in a garden of paradise he created for himself. With her family banished from his fenced off sanctuary, she could only watch him and dream about creating her own garden to escape in – and that’s something one senses has been achieved here in The Iceland Building.
Yoda said “We must unlearn what we have learned” and this is a pertinent point (Yoda wasn’t at the exhibition by the way). If we can strip ourselves of our layers of habitual behaviour and learn to play (and communicate) like children again, maybe we can revisit those early feelings of utter glee. There’s evidence of this thinking behind Nazma’s work as she shares her own spiritual journey to find well being. As adults we become so bunged up we forget the beautiful child-like state that lies dormant in each of us. Nazma attempts to unlock this in both herself and, indirectly through her art, within us.
Eco Warriors is a dialogue of hope and renewal. Moving and engaging, it also reminds us not to take life too seriously. I am very much looking forward to finding out what happens next in Nazma’s story. Art should engage and provoke us, causing a reaction that creates a change. I think many people will be touched by her work and feel a little less alone after seeing it.