International Women’s Day is a yearly event, held March 8th to celebrate the social, economical, cultural and political achievement of women. The campaign theme for 2018 is press for change and the past year has seen much progress made with movements such as Times Up and Me too. However, this is not the only narrative of women who are making headway.
There are many women in the UK championing change who have become leaders for their own generation. One of these women is Nicole Crenstil, a curator, public speaker and head of partnerships and marketing. Reform the Funk spoke to Nicole about international women’s day, her work and being a woman today’s society. Here’s what she had to say:
On stepping into a field she knew little about:
I didn’t call myself a curator for quite some time as the role kind of fell into my lap. It started, pretty much by chance – I was kind of frustrated from not seeing a lot of myself really represented so created unmasked women and developed the need to speak and tell peoples narratives, and I’ve been doing that ever since and I love it, I love what I do.
I still battle with finding that confidence [to do it] but it comes from the understanding that you’re good enough and capable of doing whatever it is that you’re trying to do. It’s really hard in a society that tells you that you’re not good enough. So I have to go against what society was telling me and do something that was different. I guess the confidence kind of came from that.
Being a black woman in the industry:
Battling the intersect of being black a woman I face so many oppressions from sexism, racism, misogyny… it’s such a constant pressure to speak about either or. I’m constantly reminded that I’m black, and I’m in a society where women still struggle in getting equality. But one thing I found really powerful [is] black girl magic; it’s something I’m passionate about and try to push forward onto other black women as well, to be proud to be called a black women. I think some people find it really hard to say you’re a black woman but I embrace that. I turn those oppressions and things that make it hard for me to be who I am, into who I am.
On the stigma of women cutting their hair
Hair will grow back. [Having short hair] feels great, it was empowering for me to cut my hair, I love the fact that I could do it and no one could stop me or tell me differently… it’s like I’ve reached my final form.
I think cutting your hair is a symbol for a great change in a woman’s life.
It’s a change in the way people perceive your identity and what you stand for and it also refreshes you. As a woman in today’s society we all need a bit of a refresh and that’s exactly what I wanted to do 2018, new hair new me.
On Black Girl Festival:
Black Girl Festival is the UK’s first festival celebrating black women past, present and future. There’s nothing that really celebrates black women in the UK [in that] way so we [Nicole created BGF alongside co-founder Paula Akpan] really wanted to find a space where we could culturally and artistically express who we are, built around what its like to be a black woman in the UK.
It wasn’t to exclude anyone of any race or gender. It’s not for any type of rally or political angst or activism, it’s because we’re here and people want to share their story with people that celebrate black women, that’s something invaluable. It’s so important for there to be a space where black women can find themselves in this spectrum of life.
We wanted Black Girl Festival to be a free event and accessible to working class families living in London. We had people travel from all over the country and that meant a lot to us as it meant it wasn’t just a London thing it was a UK wide thing was so great to see such an intergenerational turn out of people who had come in the thousands to really celebrate this festival.
On her proudest accomplishment and successes.
[My proudest moment] was doing my TedXUCL talk. It was incredibly thrilling, scary and challenging, I even cried once rehearsing it. It was the first time I’d ever really spoken about personal experiences regarding mental health to such a wide platform and I really enjoyed the entire process, it was so much fun.
I took some time out to really reconnect with my faith, find my spirituality and centre myself. You know, people ask me how did you find time, how have you done all of this stuff, honestly its not me that’s a spirit working through me that I cant explain. I just think of these things – I lot of my ideas come from sitting on the toilet actually – but a lot of them come from a higher being, a higher power. I believe its coming from God I owe all my successes to Him.
On execution and motivation
I lack motivation honestly on so many different aspects but I think that’s quite human. I’m mostly motivated by what I’m passionate about. If I’m passionate about what I’m doing I’ll get out of bed to do it or obsessively be doing it at 12am on a Saturday night. I’m motivated by history; reading a lot of books about previous women who have done what I’ve done motivates me to do better. I’m also super motivated by my friends and family who have always pushed me to do better, think widely and really express who I am.
I take on so much cultural research when I look into doing any kind of project. I think research is an important stage to partake in when you’re creating something and culture is a large part of that, [either] your heritage or the culture that you live in, like London culture. I spend a lot of time speaking to people, watching videos and reading books and case studies. It’s so important to look into what your work is stemming from and I think a lot of people find it hard to produce work without looking at some sort of research and understanding that societies culture is a really great basis to start your work and that’s something that I’ve always found to be the most fun – the research, the execution is the hard bit.
The relevance of International Women’s Day:
I think International Women’s Day is an important day because it makes women, no matter where we are in the world, think about women on a global scale. It’s so easy to think about the people that we are connected to [like] our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and best friends but when we think about those women internationally, in Africa, Australia, Europe [etc.] we should celebrate them and champion them and know who they are. I think International Women’s Day is a great time of the year for women to celebrate who they are and celebrate their sisters across the world.
All women have a voice but we [all] need to use ours. People always say women don’t have a voice, women don’t have power [but] we do, we have all these things its about how we use them and where we use them; who’s listening and who’s paying attention, we [shouldn’t] have to be silent. Working with people who are heavily marginalised or speaking for people that feel that they don’t have a voice inspires them to believe that they can say what they want and it wont be dismissed. I want to let women know that their voice is powerful and respected.
The importance of representative platforms and role models for women:
When you see yourself being reflected in a good light, it reflects back on you and what you think of yourself.
Its so important to feed yourself with positive affirmations of what you want to be in life and the people you want to aspire you. If people who aren’t good for you, who aren’t nurturing your spirit and growth surround you then you become that negativity. If you’re aligning yourself with a platform of women who are powerful and inspirational, you will naturally aspire to be them and to transmit that energy, its important for women who want to grow and be successful to be around such people or to see it on a platform they can connect with.
So many people inspire me. I look up to my mum first – she’s incredible. She’s taught me so much about myself my culture, my heritage but also about how to be a woman. If you are doing great things or being a change maker, I’m inspired. In fact I recently read Assata Shukur’s autobiography and ever since then I’ve wanted to become a revolutionary – minus the violence. [She’s] inspired me to do something that has legacy, something that withstands way past my time. I want to be someone who inspires other people to do the same the way I was inspired.
It’s so important in this digital age to be fed positive information and affirmations because there’s so much currently out there feeding [people] negative information. Girls [need] to find role models who inspire them to learn and educate them to have their own legacy and find that love within themselves.
We want to give young girls the tools to see truth within themselves and not find it in other people.
On not having to put yourself in a box:
First of all, the box is not square it’s round. There are people around you that you have to surround yourself with that are going to support you if you try to put yourself into the boxes of people who want to see you fail – you will fail. Surround yourself with positive people and soon you will see yourself reflected in that circle. If you find yourself boxed into some stereotype or some sort of system that societies placed on you, there’s still a way out even if you’re an older woman, there’s still time to make that circle and that tribe of people that you want to surround yourself with. Have fun, express who you are, don’t hide or dim your light, let it shine bright.
Follow Nicole here:
- Photography: Derrick Kakembo
- Producer / Words: Rochelle Thomas
- DOP: Ben Worthington
- Editor: Daniel Clarke
- 2nd Unit Camera: Will Stuetz
- Sound: Duncan Lawford
- Make Up Artist: Andrew Denton
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.