Morgan Harper Nichols is a writer, artist, and musician who was gracious enough to share her talent and beauty with us by modeling in our spring collection photoshoot. The SS20 Hopefully Yours collection is a celebration of hope and resilience. When we thought about women using their platform, gifts and skills to bring hope and truth, Morgan Harper Nichols was at the top of our list! (Not to mention, we knew she’d look stunning in all things Sseko! We are so grateful to have her image and spirit representing our favorite collection yet.
We’re so honored to connect with her once again and hear about why she makes art inspired by other people’s stories, her hope for young women, and what’s next for her as she continues to create a path toward community for those who feel on the outside.
SD: How does your work bridge the gap between different mediums (visual, written, music)?
MHN: One of my favorite things about art is how one style connects others. When I hear one of my favorite song I remember the album cover in my mind. When I write poetry, I try to incorporate rhythmic qualities, as if it were music. When I paint, I think of the words that speak to what I want to say. What I love is that there are so many ways to connect and I love making pieces that are bridges between moments of life. In some moments, we may be listeners and pay more attention to the, in other moments we are visual and pay more attention to colors. In other moments we may feel to compel to read. I think that making art for these different moments is a way of showing how every moment of the day, every emotion we experience, and every season of life will be different from the others, but there is beauty to be found in all of them.
SD: Where did you come up with the idea to crowdsource stories as inspiration for your art?
MHN: In 2017, shortly after I shared a vulnerable poem about feeling like a failure in my mid-20s, I began to receive messages from people I didn’t even know who said that they felt like that poem was written for them. As they began to tell me why, mostly via Instagram DMs, I was so moved by their stories that I figured, “even though I’m not able to figure out this whole art-as-a-career thing, at least I can write for this young woman who sent me her story.” I made the decision to make my art inspired by the stories people sent me when when I realized that hearing stories from others had a way of unlocking something in my own, “even though our stories are all so different, I am not alone in what I am feeling. And I am free to talk about what I am feeling, in community with others.”
SD: How have people responded to such profound audience participation?
MHN: One of my favorite responses that I have seen is when people start similar projects of their own. I tell people all the time — “you are free to steal this idea! You are free to take it and make it your own.” I have stumbled upon a way of overcoming self-doubt just enough to create, by connecting with other people…so that’s definitely something I get the most excited about. I love seeing more people creating art as a way of connecting with others.
SD: It seems like a love of poetry and the written word is making a resurgence in popularity. Why do you think that people are connecting to the written word in ways we’ve not seen in recent years?
MHN: We live in a world that is incredibly visual. From social media to television advertisements, we are surrounded by enticing images that are designed to draw us in and bring up various emotions within us. I think that the written word is how many of us go searching for meaning and depth beyond what we see. And it’s not that words on a page tell us everything, but when I write speaks about something we thought we were the only ones thinking, a connection forms. And in a busy world where meaningful connections can seem difficult to find, the written word can provide a bit of solace in a crowded world and crowded mind.
SD: What can people expect when they attend one of your performances?
MHN: Lately, I’ve been saying this pretty early on during the event: “it’s okay to be awkward here.” I know that this doesn’t necessarily sound particularly deep or profound, but it’s what I have to remind myself. I tend to feel like I’m incredibly socially awkward and I can be very hard on myself when I’m performing publicly. So what you’ll experience during one of my performances is someone who is working through self-doubt in real-time, through poetry and art. I read poetry from my book “All Along You Were Blooming” and then I talk about the stories that informed those pieces. If time permits, I also create poetry in real-time inspired by things people share with me at the event.
SD: Your work has been recently featured in several publications that target young women. What do you think it is about your message that resonates so deeply with that group?
MHN: The clearest thing that I can point to is that even though I am usually riding with other people in mind, I am also writing for my younger self very often. I receive a lot of stories from young women who are often five, ten, or fifteen years behind me, and now, at 30 years old, I’m able to look back and reflect on what may have been encouraging to me then.
SD: What is your hope for young women of color who look to you as a role model for what’s possible? What would you tell them?
MHN: Be your awkward self. That part of you that you don’t think is that interesting or compelling might be the very thing that ends up showing you: perhaps you were made to shine, amidst the fault lines. Perhaps Light pours in through the broken places. We are social creatures and we are wired for belonging, but desiring to belong doesn’t mean fitting in with everyone, everywhere. Be your awkward self. Make your art. Write your songs. Watch your documentaries. Make friends with other people who feel left out. Trust that your community is out there, and if you can’t find it, you are free to create it.
SD: What has been the most surprising thing about your career so far?
MHN: I think the most surprising thing about my career so far is that in many ways, I have ended up right back where I started at six years old. I vividly remember writing, drawing, painting, and making music as much as I could that year, especially in moments where I struggled to connect with others. I’m surprised that after so many years of trying to cater to my interests in order to fit in in certain groups, I’ve ended up finding community, meaning, and also, a day job, in the very things I thought made me too different.
SD: What’s next for you? What dream are you working towards now?
MHN: Teaching. Making and sharing art is how I connect with others and being able to see others find meaning in creativity; it brings me so much joy. I know what it’s like to get stuck in your head and talk yourself out of trying new things, focusing on a project, and believing that you’re capable, so I love showing others many things I’ve learned along the way that help me continue to create.
I just got the keys to my first studio space yesterday and I can’t wait to bring people into the space and make things together!
You can learn more about Morgan Harper Nichols on her website, Facebook, or Instagram.