“It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.”
From “The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
Last month I spent a week in Molokai, Hawaii at a women’s retreat called The Life Reimagined. Some of our workshop guidance on interaction was inspired by this poem. One of the rules was to get to know and support each other without talking about our “back-stories,” one of which is what one does for a living. Recently retired, I found not being able to talk about careers pretty challenging. “What do you like most about your job, without telling me what it is? “What would you be doing more of if you got paid for it?” “What were you doing before you arrived here?” With some adjustment, my open-ended questions started to reveal the dreams and passions of my fellow retreat-mates.
I got to know Niki Natarajan, photo-journalist, storyteller and fellow art advocate during one of these conversations. Having our breakfast over-looking a beautiful view of the North side of the island, I learned that Niki spent her free time on travel and photography. She added that she had “a bias for street art.” Sounded like a great lede to me, and I was in awe when I started pouring over her Instagram page dedicated to street artists from around the world. I still don’t know what she does for a living although photojournalism is clearly what she loves for a living.
Another day, we walked along the beach to take photos and Niki gave me some tips. I snapped this with my iPhone and was quite proud. One of the others told me it wasn’t hard to get a stunning photo of Niki. True, but Niki told me it was one of the best photos ever taken of her so I think my photo skills were also at play. Anyway, Niki is a Londoner of Italian and Indian descent who travels extensively and speaks 4 languages. While travelling, she came across beautiful street art, started photographing it, and dedicated an Instagram site to global street art. Fred Barnard of Printer’s Ink (1921) said “a picture is worth ten thousand words” and Niki feels that “Street art says it all.” You can find street art on everything from women’s rights, protecting the environment to the latest in political commentary. She then started incorporating street art photography into her work, but since I don’t yet know what that is, let’s look at some artists we both favored.
Neequaye Dreph Dsane: I fell for “Dreph” and Niki has many beautiful examples of his work. He is a London-based artist of Ghanaian decent. He painted portraits of women of African and Caribbean origin for a series You Are Enough designed to increase the visibility of incredible, but not necessarily famous, women. The portraits are beautiful. Below is one of Myvanwy Evans who runs a cultural marketing agency and is a mentor for young people. Her mission is to reduce youth suicide and crime through mentoring.
Zabou is a another French artist, but based in London. Zabou, one of Niki’s favorites, actually travels the word to share her street art and has a TED Talk about it. Below is one of Niki’s all time favorites, as one of her dreams was to become an astronaut. This is also the first example of street art that Nicki used in her photo journalism.
Bambi s a British street artist who uses her stenciled art to make social or political commentary. Her works are used to raise money for cancer and HIV research. She often uses well-known political figures and has achieved international attention for some of her more political commentary. However, it was her earlier work doing portraits of Amy Winehouse that really got my attention. I had just purchased a collection of Winehouse’s recordings before my trip to Molokai and was excited to see all the street art Niki had captured on this talented singer.
Zina: Linda Zina Aslaksen, originally from P-Town in Norway, is a freelance illustrator who studied at Falmouth University and now lives in London. Her signature is the use of blue paint for her portraits.
It was difficult to narrow down the selection to just these few photos. For more photography of street art check out “In Ink London,” Niki’s Instagram account here.
Niki tells a story with each of her Instagram publications, typically presenting the artists’ work in samples of three and posting for an occasion such World Womens Day. Wandering through her Instagram and web sites led me to the fact that, Niki is an experienced and talented journalist, photographer and public speaker who uses her photo journalism to enhance client products. (Using Zabou to enhance a discussion on Asset Allocation and Bambi for a story on Fake News.) Being able to integrate her love of photography and street art makes a difference in how much she enjoys her work. It is part of her back-story and her dreams, meeting her heart’s longing while making a living.
For me, this retreat reaffirmed my love for writing; that my heart is happiest when I write about art and that I’m most challenged when I write about and advocate for the creative works of others.
Check out more of Niki’s storytelling at Nikinatarajan.contently.com.
Editing by Tawny Lara
Photography by Niki Natarajan and Tracey Stubbs