I’m Nicole Ready, a freelance creative based between Cardiff and London. I studied fashion and whilst it is one of the industries I do work in primarily with styling, my work portfolio spans across the arts. This includes costume for film and TV, consultancy and curation in museums, community engagement, and art with children. At the core of all those sectors and mediums, the focus in my work is on education and celebrating the Black experience, heritage, culture and community. My heritage is Bajan and Welsh and both cultures are incredibly important to me. Being a product of the Windrush generation and multiculturalism in Wales plays a huge role in who I am, the work I choose to do and how I do it.
Black History Month has been inconsistent in my life from a young age and with that, the meaning of it has evolved as I’ve grown up and grown into my Blackness. As a child, it meant fun. The lead-up and the month of October were full of dancing, singing, art, performing, education and celebration. Focus on legacy, ancestors and those who paved the way but explored in a way that never felt like school or a chore, I was just having the best time with my cousins and other Black kids in Butetown.
Understandably, at the time I was naive to how shaping my childhood Black History Months would be on my character and values as an adult. Now as a 24 year old, I chose what I do with the month and what it means to me. I see it as an opportunity. My work, values and Blackness can’t be limited to just one month, but the spotlight brings opportunity for growth, listening, change and celebration. I believe a shift happened in myself and many others during the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020. We could unapologetically speak our truth as people were finally listening. BHM for me following on from that evolved again as I hope it will continue to, because progress doesn’t come from stillness.
During my time at university, I realised I had the opportunity to create work I really cared about and align with who I am, so I created Docks Magazine. The focus was exploring Black culture in Wales and issue one specifically looked at challenging the perception of Butetown, an incredibly diverse and vibrant area where I spent my formative years. But, my experience of it was misrepresented in mainstream media, and generally, the Black experience is. So I showed the Butetown I know through poetry, photography, styled portraits and interviews. It was of the people and for the people.
When thinking about what has changed the landscape in Cardiff, I believe Unify have truly done that with their murals led by Yusuf Ismail and Shawqi Hassan. They have produced some of the most impactful art in this city. I was very lucky to play a small part in a project of theirs titled My Cymru My Shirt, created in collaboration with Adidas for the Euros. People who represent our Cardiff were photographed wearing the Wales football jersey and I was one of them. Following that, the hugely talented Bradley Rmer, a local artist, painted a mural of my portrait on Quay Street. The response around it was incredible and gave space for necessary conversation to happen on representation, diversity and art. It is just one of the many Unify murals to do that.
Institutional change is vital when it comes to tackling racism, and having worked with National Museum Wales since 2020 on that, a stand-out project is the Reframing Picton Exhibition. Initiated from one portrait of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton, the former governor of Trinidad, who was put on trial for torturing a 14-year-old mixed-race girl Luisa Calderon. It explores Wales’ colonial past and links it with the transatlantic enslavement of African people. But, very importantly, it brings Trinidad back into the narrative with artists commissioned to respond. Across three rooms the exhibition is educational, dynamic and healing.
I feel there are two simple things everyone can do to make this city better beyond BHM. My first suggestion is truly embracing what a special place Cardiff is because we are one of the oldest multicultural cities in the UK. Migration is the reason Cardiff looks and feels the way it does today, people from all over the world have contributed to this city for decades and decades. Appreciation and gratitude are key. The second is to check back in. Black Lives Matter opened up people’s eyes, new feelings were felt, difficult conversations were had and a lot of commitments were made. I encourage us to really think about that time. Change is possible within us if we don’t push it to the back of our minds, if we don’t stay complacent, passive and sit in our privilege. So check back in, not only for October.
I have a deep gratitude for the Black women I had as role models from a young age who ensured it was always a fruitful and empowering BHM. My Mum, my Nan, Mrs (Betty) Campbell, Faith Walker, Latifa Charles and Humie Webb, thank you.