ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Nikki Mae
Nikki Mae is an explorer of expression, using various mediums to fine-tune her stories. Her birthing process is elongated, but every finalized form often results as an explosive, poignant creation. Her journey has been an inspiring one and continues to be so as she juggles the art of motherhood with the art of artistic living.
Nikki, in many ways, represents the overdrawn lamentable challenge behind being female. She has struggled with the division between being artist and being mother. We all recognize that oft expressed sentiment is that if you are a mother, you can be nothing else; if you are career-oriented, artistically-oriented, or academically-oriented, you cannot be a mother; unless, of course, you were willing to give it all up for motherhood. The subliminal messages are all around us: a woman, simply, cannot have it all. There is a ticking clock behind life aspirations that end with the birth of a child. The presupposition is that once you have a child, your individual life is over and the course of the rest of your life should now be catered toward the raising of your child. And if you don’t, there is the continual judgment and overriding implied shame of being a terrible (and selfish) mother.
She’s managed to persevere through this all, not just as a parent, but as a single mother. Working with Nikki astounds me as I see the empire she is constructing for herself and for her daughter. Her seven-year old daughter understands why her mother must create and what it is Nikki is trying to do. Their relationship has been built entirely upon trust, transparency, and honesty. Truly, Nikki has launched into a nontraditional form of motherhood that I dare say may prove to be an inspirational example for future ambitious mothers to imitate. How does a woman nurture her family as well as feed the needs and wants of her own life? Previously, the answer has been that something must be given up. Nikki defies this answer. Her practice is not to give up anything, but to change the dynamics of the relationship to fit and feed the needs of everyone within the structure— and she has. She’s created something much more honest, loving, and, above all, supportive.
Nikki feels that her art has been massively altered since becoming a mother. She finds that what was once a tool for self-care and expression has become something intricately tied to nurturing and wellness for the whole party. Since having her daughter, she cannot help but see things with a more compassionate, empathetic eye. With the passage of time, she realized that the process toward art is just as important as, if not more than, the finalized product of art. The richness and truth of developed relationships directly affect what is birthed and created. Since advocating for building with this dedication to maintaining an authentic, emotional, and supportive space, she has redesigned the “work room”, so to speak. With wellness and love at the forefront, creation is being born in a highly different environment absent of the stress and pressure that oftentimes consumes other spaces.
Nikki works within the health and wellness sector of a nonprofit organization aimed at enriching undernourished youth communities within LA. She believes now that singular purpose is nothing without connection to the communal purpose. Some questions she often engages with are:
What is the legacy we leave here?
How can we uplift the colonized body?
How can invisibility be challenged to heighten one’s sense of self?
How do you belong, when you do not belong?
How do we move through hyper-invisibility?
All very large questions, these are among the many that she has, as a Filipina American, worked through. And there is no doubt that many other Filipino/a Americans struggle through these questions as well.
Her answer to most of these questions: root down.
Everything about her art is tailored to include everything she’s come from. “Historical nods in modern art are everything”— without these, how will we and the many generations that come next, ever know? When we’re not being culturally enriched and informed within our daily experiences here in the U.S, where is the Filipino/a American supposed to find their sense of self? Filipinos, despite the longevity of their stay, have remained notably invisible within the larger cultural whole.
With PI3 and Gunita, she’s found a vehicle to create with like-minded pinays who have successfully worked through their own struggles of decolonization. Through interacting with their own colonized bodies, these women have managed to overcome the crab/colonial mindset. To Nikki, of utmost importance, is to have found sisterhood absent of competition. Here, there is support. With sisterhood (family) and support (community), there is already everything needed to continue the process of decolonizing and eventual thriving. And, by default, we begin the process of empowering and uplifting others within our community.