This conversation, as part fourteen in our weekly Nashville Quilt Project round-up, features 16-year-old Oasis Center student Nadia. The Nashville Quilt Project is a 50-foot mural located on Charlotte Pike as part of Off the Wall Nashville platform. Founders Jake and Hana Elliott, of WHAT. Creative Group, photographer Elizabeth Ratliff, and I partnered with four nonprofits to highlight their exceptional arts programming post-national budget cuts. A collaborative effort every step of the way, the mural was funded by local business owners and community members, and created by a diverse collection of local artists—many of whom are in their teens. Collectively, the artists have said that their favorite part of the process was having the opportunity to build bonds with strangers over a shared interest: the fulfillment and emotional satisfaction they receive from creating. It is what allows them to channel their emotions in a world that oftentimes encourages us to suppress them. Through the Oasis Center’s International Teen Outreach Program, whose service projects help students develop leadership and life skills, Nadia discovered the Underground Art Studio—a safe space for participants to work on their Nashville Quilt Project pieces. Gentle yet fierce, the native Somalian had strong opinions about her artwork and life. She knew exactly what she wanted to say and how to say it.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Nadia: I was born and raised in Kenya and came to the United States in 2015. The immigration process was long because my family is so large. The first place we landed was Kentucky. My aunt visited Nashville shortly after, which she decided she liked better. We all followed her soon after.
What do you like about Nashville?
Nadia: It’s a smaller city that isn’t too overwhelming. I don’t do well in crowded places. Nashville is calm, diverse enough to satisfy my need for that, and the weather is really good. It’s quiet too.
Why is diversity important to you?
Nadia: Because I am different and don’t want others to judge me for who I am. And I don’t want to judge anyone for who they are. To have that, we need diversity. That’s what the United States is about, right?
What does creativity mean to you?
Nadia: Expressing yourself. This was the first big art project I ever worked on. It’s so cool that ten years down the line I’ll be able to drive down the road and see it.
What are you painting and why are you painting it?
Nadia: The painting is about how Nashville is the first place where I felt as though I could really be myself. I rediscovered myself spirituality and remembered who I was after arriving here. My painting represents how broken I felt when I moved here and how Nashville seemed to help me come back together. Everyone else seems happy here too.
Do you have any struggles going on right now?
Nadia: I struggle with finding myself. That is really hard. I probably care too much about it.
When I say the word community what does that mean to you?
Nadia: A group of people, similar to the ITOPS program, who are as close as family. The Oasis Center is even more special because we are a community trying to help other communities.
Can you tell us a bit about your dream life?
Nadia: Nashville will be my home but I will also travel a lot. My goal is to go to college, because that is something I wouldn’t have been able to do in Africa. I just want to be a good person when I grow up.
Do you see yourself as an artist?
Nadia: Isn’t everyone? We all have feelings and you just have to find the right way to express yourself.
Conversation by Jake Elliott of WHAT.Creative Group // edited by author Lily Clayton Hansen
Learn more about the Oasis Center’s Underground Art Studio here