Nicola Anthony is a sculptor, storyteller, and small business owner. Inspired by a deep cultural curiosity, her strikingly unique ‘text sculptures’ unravel and celebrate the complicated lives of others. She talks about the challenges of working as an international artist and the motivation she finds in telling the stories of those who otherwise wouldn’t have a voice.
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I found the perfect medium to tell complicated stories
I’ve always been fascinated with other people’s stories. I initially looked to writing as a way of exploring that, but those words found their way into my artwork, and so I started to create ‘text sculptures’ — sculptures that are literally made out of words. It’s the perfect medium to tell complicated stories.
Sculpture is a male-dominated industry, and I think my work sometimes surprises people: I’m a wiry, 5’ tall, woman creating massive sculptures from bronze and metal! That said, while there has historically been an imbalance in terms of the opportunities that have been available to men and women, I’ve been fortunate not to have experienced any discrimination myself. I think the industry is also evolving more than ever and working to combat prejudice.
The stories I tell are often difficult: My artwork has featured genocide and Holocaust survivors, families dealing with alcoholism, and young adults facing mental illness. My job is to understand and empathize with each person’s story, so that I can communicate it sensitively and truthfully through my art.
For example, one of my sculptures was a 3-meter tall piece, about a man who escaped from Poland during World War II, which I did with the USC Shoah Foundation in LA. My research required me to work with the family and study archive interview footage of him. One of the more haunting details was that I could see there were things that he was leaving unsaid, moments of silence that were also an important part of the story that I had to tell. It was an intense experience, but ultimately a privilege for me.
The nature of the work can be emotionally difficult. But my motivation comes from giving a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t have one. That’s what spurs me on.
My work has taken me all over the world
I’ve had exhibitions in Asia, Europe, and America. Naturally, for international projects I need a team around me, which generally involves a project manager or contractors such as art installers or material suppliers.
Paying all of these people in different parts of the world used to be a challenge: Opening bank accounts in different countries is difficult and time-consuming, and making international payments from my local bank account was very expensive — for my first US project alone I paid over $1,000 in bank fees.
That’s why I started using Wise. It’s been amazing — I no longer need to worry about bad exchange rates or extra fees, and my team receives their payments on time. There used to be times where I would receive a payment from a foreign country but the full amount didn't reach me because the banks had taken some money off of it. Having experienced that, I didn't want it to happen the people I'm paying.
Beyond saving me time and money, another unexpected outcome has been that the efficiency and transparency Wise provides has helped my small business keep strong relationships with all the people I need to pay. It’s so important that, even when I’m a new person from a different country, my team members all trust me, and getting payments to them in a timely manner with no stress about exchange rates has helped enormously.
Shifting my mindset was one of the best things I did for my career.
I left London for Singapore about 10 years ago. It was quite scary for me, because I had just formed connections with collectors and galleries in the UK. However, I knew that in order to learn about other places you have to embed yourself in the culture. So, I decided to embrace the idea of being an international artist. Shifting my mindset was one of the best things I could do for my career.
I’ve always looked to find and celebrate the diversity in societies and cultures through my work. My grandparents migrated to the UK from India in the 1960s and, growing up, I was aware of how my family suddenly became immigrants and felt their lives transform. That feeling of otherness ingrains itself, and as a child you pick up on that, and it’s given me an empathy for people who do feel like that.
While I don’t like to focus on my own story, I think I’ve realized over the last few years that in looking outwards, towards other cultures, I’m also trying to look at myself and understand my family’s history. Finding out about other people’s stories can be a way to help understand yourself.
My artwork aims to help my audience see and accept the differences in others. There is a concept of equality intertwined in that — to see the beauty of a diverse society and the commonalities between all of us.
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As told to Christina Thomas exclusively for Wise. Photography provided by Nicola Anthony. To learn more about Nicola's work, click here.
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