Nataal Media has given artists, creatives, and designers in and outside the African continent a platform to introduce and share their work globally. Its aim is to be a diverse space for new voices in the creative industry. Spearheading the platform is editorial director Helen Jennings.
We chat with Helen in her Brixton home, surrounded by art from some of her favorite people, like a ceramic object from Zimbabwean ceramicist Xanthe Somers and an early portrait by Nigerian painter Abe Odedina. And of course her newest editions to her home, ‘Mariam’ and ‘Feria de Jerez’ by Olga de la Iglesia, which she curated for Homecoming Gallery.
Hi Helen, you have an impressive bio from working as the editor of Arise, to contributing to international titles such as Vogue, Dazed, AnOther, and Apartamento. You also wrote the coffee table book New African Fashion and now you're the editorial director at Nataal Media.
What excites you the most about writing these diverse stories?
I gain so much pleasure from crafting the written word, from rising to the challenge of building an informative long read, and from curating a powerful publication from scratch. ‘Storytelling’ is a buzzword these days but as a wordsmith, it’s what I’ve always lived for.
I love meeting a wide range of creatives and learning about their journeys and I am forever grateful to be given the opportunity to experience other people’s worlds. I also love discovering new talent and helping to give them a wider audience. Being a writer is endlessly satisfying.
Tell us about the vision that drives Nataal.
We are a global team who share a passion for building an independent magazine and digital platform that is worthy of all the new talent from around the continent and the diaspora who are coming to the fore. And we are committed to diverse storytelling that encourages a spirit of radical togetherness. Our focus is very much on creating a fresh and uplifting visual language and unhurried, longform storytelling that feels both inspiring and inclusive.
Right now, contemporary African art is booming and rightfully so. Why do you think that is?
The scene has been burgeoning for several years, bringing with it a much-needed vitality and representation to the art and creative industries. We’ve seen a groundswell of galleries, art fairs and institutions in step with the new generation of artists putting out invigorating work. There’s just something so evocative and energetic about so many of these young talents who are drawing on their own heritage and lived experiences to create magical and original practices that speak to identity, to history, to spirituality, to politics, to belonging and so much more. All without looking for external validation or trying to fit into existing schools of thought.
How do you think artlovers, and actually society as a whole, can support young artists looking for ways to succeed outside of the beaten tracks?
Buy their work!
Absolutely, do you have any advice collectors looking to diversify their art collection?
Just go with your heart and buy what you love. And of course photography is both a relatively accessible medium to collect as well as being a growth market, so that’s a great place to start.
Why do you think you’re attracted to these visual stories?
Coming from a fashion and magazine background, I’m naturally drawn to photography and portraiture. It’s all about engaging with the people in the image and imagining those characters. There is poetry in faces and narratives in each frame. As an editor, it’s beautiful to witness a photographer grow too, to be involved in creating meaningful work together, and to see them realise their full potential.
What I love about her work is her playful exploration of colours and shapes, and how those trigger pure emotions while upending visual codes. There’s always a joyful, empathic and dreamy quality to her images that makes me smile. She is also endless versatile, ranging across fashion, portraiture, travel, reportage and still life. And above all that, there is a humanity to her images and a feeling of having a true connection to the subjects she shoots around the world, from street vendors in her native Barcelona to models in NYC to school kids in India and far beyond.
If you were to create your ideal photography show, what would it look like and what works would have to be included?
It would be a group show of womxn photographers around the globe whose work explores different beauty ideals. It would be a raw space with lots of room to host a killer launch party. Crucial! And artists would include ofcourse Olga de la Iglesia, Viviane Sassen, Alice Mann, Nadine Ijewere, Kristin-Lee Moolman, Adama Jalloh, Ruth Ossai, Amber Pinkerton and more.
Any piece of art are you’re dreaming up for your own home?
My walls need a Lynette Yiadom-Boakye!