Dear Bhoomie friends

One thing we all share here in Bhoomieland is a love for Mother Earth and it’s incredibly inspirational to watch small idea seeds grow into life changing sustainability projects. One such idea seed was started by Bhoomie friend Nicolé Maurel, who grew up in a small town in South Africa during the last years of Apartheid. She has been a creative light since childhood, always drawing and creating beautiful things to make her friends smile.

Nicolé is part of a new generation that’s trying to tackle poverty one project at a time. Her journey started when she first went to Aberdeen in 2010 to teach ceramic art to a group of talented and eager students from the surrounding townships. She wanted to pass on skills that individuals could use to become self-reliant. In 2011 she won The Emma Smith Art Scholarship that she put towards funding a stunning exhibition of her students’ work in a South African national art gallery. Her idea seed has managed to change and inspire lives forever. Here’s how and why:

Zellie: What inspired you to go on your first trip to Aberdeen and teach at the workshop in 2010?

Nicolé: DUT (Durban University of Technology) closed for four months in 2010 to do renovations, I decided to work during this time. Sharing my skills with fellow human beings has always been my main goal in life.

Zellie: How did you find out about the Emma Smith Award, what was the process involved in applying for it?

Nicolé: The Emma Smith Art Scholarship has been going on at DUT every year for many years.  It’s always been a dream to enter this competition, but you have to get chosen to represent your department.  The whole faculty of art and design enters this competition with only two students and sometimes one student from each department.  So, just to be a nominee and being able to participate is already a great achievement. 

I had to write a letter of intent (what would I do with the money if I win), artist statement, artist CV, artist biography, and I had to write about my work. When nominated, we had to set up an exhibition of our work and had an interview with about 12 judges. I never thought I could win against graphic design, fashion design and jewellery design etc. But what a surprise it was, Fine Arts, Nicolé Maurel won. This was an amazing achievement, wow. So proud of myself.

Zellie: Were you scared to apply for it and if so, how did you overcome your fear to take the first step towards this amazing outcome?

Nicolé: No, I’m not scared of anything. I believe in taking chances and always going for it. If I don’t succeed I try again or try something else. ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. [A Boer makes a plan – an old Afrikaner saying when faced with adversity]

Zellie: Did you pre-plan taking your family with you when you entered the Award or was it something you discussed once you had won? How was it to have them there with you?

Nicolé: Yes, everything was planned and proposed.  It was an amazing experience and great honour to show my baby to the people of Aberdeen, my baby is my pride and joy. It was the first time they saw her. I wanted to take her with me, because I wouldn’t be able to survive a day without her. My husband supported me and helped taking care of baby while I was working and we all really enjoyed Aberdeen and Graaff Reinet.

Zellie: Have you learned anything about yourself that you didn’t know before you started this project?

Nicolé: I always knew it would be joyful to share my skills as an artist, but this project showed me the joy it brings to the people you share it with.

Zellie: Do you feel that collaboration of this kind with impoverished communities, where you transfer sustainable skills that can be transformed into work, is the way to beat poverty in the world?

Nicolé: Of course, yes, totally.

Zellie: How did the community in Aberdeen respond to your arrival and your coaching?

Nicolé: Aw, they were warm, open, friendly and so hungry to learn. What meant the most to me was that they truly appreciated and loved me as an individual. They listened and trusted what I taught them.

Zellie: If you could sum the Emma Smith Project up in one word, what would it be?

Nicolé: LOVE.

Zellie: Are you planning further work with the sculptors you taught in Aberdeen?

Nicolé: Yes, I would like for the project to continue. I’m planning to make it a lifelong project. I am organising a solo show for Charlene Matiwane at the DUT Art Gallery in January next year and then I would like to have another show for the workshop in Scotland, titled Aberdeen to Aberdeen in 2016. I would also like to teach people in Aberdeen how to work from their homes and how to fire ceramics from home. It will be so much cheaper this way and give more people the opportunity to learn. 

I’m hoping that Aberdeen can become a small artists town where all humans from all over the world can go visit and support this community. Where visitors can walk the streets and every little Mandela house in this town will be like the family’s own small personal gallery where they can exhibit their work to the world. And with time I will obviously come up with more and more ideas, because I never run out of new ideas.

Zellie: What would you say to someone who may feel too scared of taking those first steps in starting a sustainability project in their community?

Nicolé: Just do it. Follow your heart. You can never ever make a mistake by helping others. Plan it wisely. The only thing you will receive in return is love. There is always hope. 

So lovely people, if you’ve ever felt like you have something to share with those around you but felt uncertain, then in the words of a true inspirational: “Just do it.” Thanks to Tyler Dolan you can visually enjoy Nicolé’s journey here:

Lots of sustainable love