NOMAD series - Iceland
I often refer to myself as a Slow Nomad, as I have been moving around the world for various reasons during the past 12 years. All those countries had a different impact in my identity, mindset, lifestyle and most likely in my creativity. I felt like creating a series of articles about some selected places I have lived and how they relate to who I am today would be a great idea. Here's number one: Iceland.
I moved to Iceland in November 2013 after 2 years studying and working in Graphic Design in London.
How and why did it happen? It was the end of summer 2013 in London and I felt like things were slowing down for me in this city. I just left the studio which offered my first regular Graphic Design freelance gig and realised my one year old side business - selling pre-loved vintage clothes in East London creative markets - wasn't leading anywhere. However, discovering fashion and its creative possibilities were very appealing to me as a recent unblocked artist. I wanted to experiment in this direction without having to take a class, so I started looking for internships in fashion and felt like London was the perfect place for it. I applied for months, but no reply. Simultaneously, my housing situation was becoming problematic so I decided to take it as a sign to leave and applied for fashion internships in Paris as well. Despite not receiving any better feedbacks, I booked my ticket and told myself that no matter what, Paris is my hometown and coming back surrounded by family and friends would bring me clarity for the next steps to take.
10 days before my planned departure, an unexpected event happened in the streets of London: love at first sight with an Icelandic guy from Reykjavik <3
Fast forward few months later, after moving back to my parents in Paris and briefly visiting him in Reykjavik for 5 days, we took the decision to give it a try. I moved to Reykjavik in November 2013... and found a Textile Design internship for a local up-and-coming fashion brand.
Before you get too excited (haha), the whole experience - love story, internship and life in Iceland - only lasted 6 months. Nevertheless, it was short and intense enough to be life changing.
Despite having a tiny population - 300 000 inhabitants - Icelanders mindset is more flexible and accepting than most bigger and cosmopolitan countries I have lived in. The way people build and live their life is very anti conventional and what would be regarded as shameful in more conservative countries is perfectly okay there. For example, it's quite common to see people having children at the end of their teenage years, then go to university while being young parents, and getting married few years later. Even after a divorce, it's common to see old and new family members keeping strong ties to maintain a good harmony for children. You can also feel this transparency in the way people talk about their mental health and addiction issues. Whether your a woman or a man. It's okay to be vulnerable. No matter what you are going through and your life choices, no one will judge you. I felt this open-mindedness quite refreshing and allowed me be comfortable with being vulnerable and real.
Spontaneous and inclusive creativity
Everyone is creative in Iceland. Living in such an intense climate - wild landscapes, strong winds, longer nights/days - messes up with your mood but also deeply inspires you. Keeping all your feelings inside can become destructive in the long run. As a result a big portion of the population uses creativity as an outlet to stay sane. I would even go as far as saying that they use art - music, painting, writing, knitting, sewing - as a self-care ritual. It's very common to meet a teacher who also paints, a firefighter who is part of a band, or an accountant who had an exhibition last week, or a tour guide who wrote 5 fiction books... Did you know that Iceland has "more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world."? And again, because people are not quick to judge, any way of expression no matter the quality would be respected. This democratisation of art was exactly what I needed at the time, as Iceland is the place where I started drawing again. Back then my ex-boyfriend and his family and friends were very encouraging and it gave me confidence to express myself through this art form. I was also very inspired whenever I would go to a gig, an exhibition, house party... There's a playfulness and spontaneity in which Icelanders do things which really stick. Experimentation and self-expression in the Icelandic art scene is highly encouraged and respected over perfection and exclusivity which are rampant in France.
Again, as a result of their harsh living environment, Icelanders are very resilient. One of my favorite Icelandic saying that give you an idea of their mindset is “þetta reddast”, which roughly translates to "it will all work out okay". In other words, there's no problem, only solution or there's always a way. I loved it and it amplified how I was already living my life despite an almost unavoidable tiny tendency to worry and pessimism inherited from my French upbringing and education (haha).
The blessing of being a minority
Despite being a homogeneous country, I find Iceland quite open to the presence of foreigners. Having lived in China before, I was a bit apprehensive about the experience I would have as a black woman but in the end I was surprised to only have positive experiences. I was welcomed everywhere I went - even in the early morning aqua fitness course surrounded by a group of old Icelanders - and even had a brief modelling career, appeared in a TV commercial and, apparently, have a picture of myself taken by a local famous photographer exhibited in one the national museums in Reykjavik. I didn't stay long enough to go as far as learning the language but this short experience inspired not to put any boundary between me and a country I'd like to live just because of the way I look or pre-conceived ideas about what my experience would be there. Now, given the privilege that I have to move freely around the globe, I make a conscious choice to always focus on what's working, the positive sides and the opportunities I have thanks to my difference. It helped me navigate Denmark and Japan better afterwards.
I could go on with how much I loved Icelanders respect for nature and folklore, safety at all times, the incredible music scene (yes, I saw my darling Björk playing live there <3), natural hotsprings and hot pools everywhere, invisible economical/status hierarchy, strong women figures, mindblowing landscapes... but I needed to stop somewhere.
I hope this article will make you want to learn more about this incredible country.