It is no longer surprising that my social network has expanded enormously since joining the coworking community, allowing me to have conversations with fellow females who are very passionate about art, workspaces, community and helping others. One example of such blissful interaction is with Nina Franco, whom I met at Creative Works. Nina is a political artist and activist and, needless to say, has a strong sense of identity and autonomy. We chatted about her journey and how her life’s mission led her into working at coworking spaces in London and, the impact it has made on her life.
Since leaving her home country, Brazil, in 2011, she had lived in Ireland and Greece for a couple of years. Nina then decided to move to London in 2016 to pursue her art, photography and installation. Since then, Nina has been working on various community projects where she uses her art as a tool for social change. Previously Nina worked as a community manager at ARC Club and is now working as a freelance consultant helping coworking spaces create new projects and engage with local communities. The latest endeavour for Nina is working at Creative Works. She is helping to organise an art club for the local community and the members of Creative Works so they could come and spend few hours engaging in different types of activities each week. “There’s going to be a different topic”, says Nina, “most of it focuses on art as self-healing.” She hopes that this approach would make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of a community within and outside of coworking spaces.
Here’s what Nina had to say about her artistry and work at coworking spaces:
Please tell us more about your work as an artist.
My art is political. I don’t see my art and activism as two separate things as they interconnect all the time. For instance, if you look at some of my work, you can see images of red coat hangers that represent women who died from unsafe abortion practices in Brazil. Abortion is still illegal in my country, and the material I used in making the hangers is the same as being used for abortion practices. I always use red yarn in creating my art as it is my way to connect with the women who died while simultaneously connecting with my family roots. I come from a family who carried the tradition of seamstresses and tailors for four generations, so sewing is an integral part of who I am. I use the threads in my work to help me connect with my ancestors and especially women from my family.
If you look at the big scale historically, the majority of people working in sewing factories, or even before factories were invented, were poor women. To this day, they are anonymous, hidden by the societies who devalued their work and their rights purely based on their social class. Thus, my work serves as a tool for me to connect with these women and to help me strengthen family connections through the medium of my art.
Where do you get inspiration from when creating art?
It’s very personal. I make art while looking at the social aspects of society and how my experiences correlate to what’s happening around me. We can have a look at it from a different perspective. Everything that is happening to me is the consequence of how society is built. So, as a black and queer woman, I don’t feel I have another choice other than political art. For me, it is about surviving and showing my existence and resistance. I am here because of other people who were resistant and fought for my rights to be where I am today, and I cannot take that for granted.
What impact coworking spaces have made on you?
Firstly, while living in Ireland and Greece, I used coworking spaces to do my admin work as I spent a lot of time in my studio. In London, I started working as a community manager and got to know coworking spaces from a different perspective. This opportunity inspired me to work for the community and help make coworking spaces more accessible to people like myself. At first, it was a space where I was the only black woman employed, but I got challenged to understand coworking and make changes from the inside out and search for new ways we could help improve the company’s culture and make it more accessible and inclusive.
Sometimes it’s easy to create inclusive space because you are offering free programs that appeal to people. But then the other issue arises — how do you make the environment comfortable for people coming? And it goes back to the basics, such as the company’s culture and how you welcome people to the space. Do we have elements that make them think that it was built for them?
Coworking spaces are fantastic places, and I wish that more people could reap the benefits that coworking spaces have to offer. My ideal workplaces are coworking spaces that have studios, shared desks, and other activities, so that you have a variety to choose from. I have ADHD and can easily get bored, and I like to get re-energised doing activities such as yoga or climbing as it puts me back on track.
How can coworking help build confidence?
It’s a place to be and build confidence as you can engage in the activities on your own terms. You can bring the clients, or work on your own if you wish, share it with other creatives and create more collaborations that help grow your network and strengthen the community. You can go to the events that serve as an ice breaker while at the same time there are community members online who can help you with any issues you have. I want coworking to become a place that makes people feel comfortable and confident despite their race, class, age, and gender.
To sum it all up, Nina is collaborative, creative and supportive, and is working on some superb plans that are nearing fruition. She understands the need to stay relevant and work closely with the communities if we want to engage with them, and remain in dialogue on longer-term transformational change. There is a tremendous need to build self-worth and value in ourselves and our work from a non-judgmental, caring place, and Nina is helping coworking spaces to precisely do that.