Nicole Barakat: Slowing the PacePhoto credit: Nicola Bailey


Earlier this month, we embarked on a journey into the world of online learning. The first of our series of online craft classes was led by professional teaching artist Nicole Barakat, who took participants through learning how to create their own yarn from reused materials and a series of basic crochet stitches to create their own wearable piece. In this week's Social Journal, we sat down (virtually) with Nicole to ask her about how life as an artist has changed for her in the last couple of months, how art and social change are interwoven and what's next...


How has life as a practising and teaching artist changed for you in the past month?

Life has changed dramatically for me, as it has for all of us! So much of the work I do involves interacting with people face to face, in real time. I work at the Museum of Contemporary Art as an artist educator, even though we have been closed for a little while now, I am still working on developing resources from home. But I miss seeing my colleagues and friends and I miss engaging with people in the galleries with real life artwork.  

I am also sad that a couple of my exhibitions had to be postponed. At the same time, I am grateful to have had life slow right down. I was quite overwhelmed by work and art life before the Covid-19 lockdown, so I feel like I have been able to stop and catch my breath, which is a relief. 

You talk about your work as embodying love and patience... this feels so relevant right now. What is the role of art in a pandemic? What are the possibilities you see opening up? 

As I mentioned, life (for some of us) is moving at a slower pace. All of a sudden there seems to be more time. I make art that is very labour intensive and takes time. So basically this is a dream space/pace for me. 

I think that art, particularly that which is meditative and repetitive (like most textile art!), allows us an opportunity to be in the moment. To slow down, to stay focused and to relax with what is in front of us. Engaging with art can keep us calm, especially when the world outside feels chaotic. 

I hope this time enables folks to learn new skills and take up new creative practices and to develop the ones they already have. Now is the time to immerse ourselves in creative practice. Art literally saves lives!  


 Cotton embroidered hand cut lamé on wool silk cloth 2 x 150cm diameter 2018 Photo: Nicola Bailey
Cotton embroidered hand cut lamé on wool silk cloth 2 x 150cm diameter 2018 Photo: Nicola Bailey


On your website you say you're passionate about the potential for art and imagination to create social change... can you tell us a story about how you experienced this in action?

Firstly, without imagination, we cannot envisage a world that is better, fairer, more just and safe for everyone. We need our imaginations to dream new blueprints for the world we want to live in. When I was younger, I read an essay by Gloria E. Anzaldúa that left a big impression on me. She says we need our imaginations to see beyond this reality, but also to find ways of coping. I feel that art, especially art that includes and engages with communities, is vital in improving the conditions of our everyday lives. 

Art is also a space to speak and to be heard. Everyone has a voice, but not everyone has access to a platform for their voice to be heard. I have worked on countless community engaged projects in my 20 plus year art practice. One of the most important things for me is to facilitate a process of speaking and being heard. I come in with materials and processes and ask folks what they want to say, what is important to them. I then facilitate a process of art making (speaking) and realising ideas. I also bring my privilege and access to the world as an artist with agency. I see it as my responsibility to hold the doors (that have opened for me), open for others too so they also have opportunities to be heard. This means I have to let go of any expectations I may have had about projects. I have to hand over the agency to the folks I am working with and support them to speak their own truths. 

A couple of years ago I worked with a group of women from a Rohingya community in Sydney. I was employed to facilitate a project about a particular theme. However, the women wanted to make work about the things that were important to them at that time including safety for their families and opportunities for their children and visas! So they made exquisite applique artworks that were banner-like that had statements like “To have a successful life, my dream house and my children’s future, I need a visa.” These were then exhibited in a show at Bankstown Art Centre. The project outcome was important, but the process of making these works was even more significant. Each week, the women would arrive to class earlier and earlier and then stay afterwards for a shared meal. This wasn’t just a class, but a time and place for connecting with their community and having access to materials, skills, tools they may not have in their own homes. The very act of coming together on a weekly basis to do something that was enjoyable, relaxing, in the moment and creative made the biggest difference to their lives and mine!

Finally, can you tell us a little about your personal practice at the moment, what are you making, what are you working on while you are in isolation?

I should be working towards a solo exhibition but as that has been postponed, I have pulled out one of my many half made projects. I am currently making my second hexagon quilt. It is entirely hand-stitched and made with cotton fabrics that have come from scraps and off-cuts from sewing projects of mine, but also my sister’s and my mum’s. I am making three quilts – one for each of my sisters’ children and one for myself. Each hexagon tells a story. One of my favourite memories is sitting under the first quilt I made with my nephew George, he was about 6 years old at the time. We sat there for ages as he pointed to each hexagon, he’d ask me to tell him the story of where that fabric came from. I could tell him about the shirts I made for his mother and the skirt I made for a job interview. I am also grateful that I had a tiny scrap of cloth from a dress my mum made in the 1960’s. So each quilt has one hexagon with that fabric in it. That’s what quilts are all about, they embody our stories, our labour, our time and continue to bear witness to those who they were made to comfort.

 Cotton embroidered hand cut lamé on wool silk cloth 2 x 150cm diameter 2018 Photo: Nicola Bailey
Cotton embroidered hand cut lamé on wool silk cloth 2 x 150cm diameter 2018 Photo: Nicola Bailey


You can find out more about the impact we're having in the community here, and be sure to visit Nicole's website and Instagram - you'll be glad you did!

May 04, 2020 — TSO Staff

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.