Art Adventures for Social Change

By Erica Louise  

Five years have passed since Nikky Agnello showcased her first solo exhibition at the Frankston Arts Centre. This South African born visual artist is on a mission; to raise awareness and stimulate conversation around human rights and the environment. Her work focuses on the connection between all living things.

Such important topics were not at the start of Nikky’s artistic journey. Previously, Nikky worked as an award-winning art director and graphic designer in London and Melbourne. Only recently did she steer the wheel of her creative talents in the direction of conceptual art.

And her progression into visual arts came at the end of something else. In 2013, she faced an undiagnosed health condition. Later, this was confirmed as Lyme disease, a debilitating tick-borne illness with no cure. Rather than dwell on her poor health, Nikky dived deeper into her creative self to release her inner struggles.

“Going through a particularly traumatic time in my life, I had to pause and take stock as I found myself reflecting on what I needed to do to move forward. I was searching for something to take my mind off things and I saw a call for entry to Frankston Art Centre’s open exhibition and seized the escapism it offered me,” explains Nikky.

Nikky saw Frankston Arts Centre’s open art competition as an opportunity to transfer her talents from digital design on to canvas. She painted her own interpretation of the competition theme “Infinite Space” with her beautiful piece entitled “Tonight I float in a sea of stars, in infinite space.”

At the time, Nikky was not an accomplished artist, yet her piece won her the People’s Choice Award. This achievement rewarded Nikky with a solo exhibition at the Cube 37 Gallery. Her exhibition titled ‘Detritus’ proved a huge success. She sold 12 pieces on the opening night.

“When I first started thinking about what I was going to paint, I asked myself what would sell and thought beach scenes and landscapes. But something inside of me screamed NO! I knew I had to use this opportunity as a healing experience, so I centred the works around depression. I never expected to sell any works at all, but I sold 12 pieces! I had people thanking me with tears in their eyes saying; ‘This is me except that I can’t paint it’,” Nikky explains.

Nikky’s artwork has taken an audacious new path since she first dipped her brush into the pool of visual arts. The success of her first exhibition ignited her desire to be more adventurous in her art. 

“I often feel vulnerable and exposed but I know I must put a really creative expression out there for people to be able to connect to it”

Nikky’s enchanting artworks on plywood focus on the connection between humanity and the environment. She paints graphic patterns using harmonious muted earthy tones, drawing inspiration from the contours already present in the timber on which she paints.

Recently, Nikky’s desires to raise awareness through her work on subject matters such as human rights and climate change have inspired her deeply-moving and thought-provoking exhibits. 

My Love is Bulletproof is Nikky’s latest exhibition at Cube 37 Frankston. It is quite different to her previous works; perhaps a little more confronting than her enchanting contour work on plywood, but equally poignant. Nikky invested thousands of hours to create an artwork about gun control. 

“Are Australian gun laws as bulletproof as we are led to believe?,” she says. “The past few years have seen a dramatic rise in civilian gun ownership in Australia, which is now at 3.2 million, the same level as at the time of the Port Arthur massacre.”

To address this concern, Nikky invited visitors into Cube 37 to experience a landscape of gunfire frozen in time. In the centre was a child-size bulletproof vest constructed from hundreds of love letters written by mothers in the local community to their children. This vest creates a force field of love while diverting a cloud of shrapnel.

Her emotionally charged installation is a compassionate message guided by love and action, used in a way to raise awareness and discussion around Australia’s gun laws.

“What if you could freeze time and go back to seconds before a tragic event occurred? What if you could create an invisible force field of protection around yourself and those you love to prevent harm? Would you do it? The problem reaches far beyond gun laws and is intrinsically linked to how we see ourselves and each other,” explains Nikky.

While Nikky’s bulletproof vest is now packed away, she hopes the strong message behind her esteemed project will reach a wider audience. Perhaps we will see “My Love is Bulletproof” on tour.

In the meantime, Nikky can be found painting and creating in what she describes as her “ramshackle house” with her beloved husband, two children and five chickens. It is here where Nikky’s thoughts and aspirations to drive conversations towards human rights and environmental subjects through her art come to fruition.

Nikky Agnello’s work continues to be displayed in galleries all over Melbourne.

First published in Peninsula Essence – July 2019