Nia Hefe Filiogianni (b. 1990 in Athens, Greece) lives between Athens (GR) and London (UK). She is a visual artist, artist coach and founder of Cream Athens, a non-profit agency supporting emerging artists from all over the world. Nia is also working at UAL (University of the Arts London) as a Brand and Creative Services Coordinator.
Graduated with a distinction from DEREE, The American College of Greece with a BA (Hons) in Visual Arts & Art History in 2014, and from Central Saint Martins (UAL) with a Masters in Communication Design with a scholarship, Nia is a professional artist with numerous collaborations and awards.
Nia’s practice lies between mixed media painting and collage, using primarily recycled textiles and gouache. Her pieces are heavily based on semiotics, with her themes being love and politics, inspired by Greek myths and Ancient Greek culture. Even though her colour palette is limited to pastels which bring a calmness to the eye, the meaning behind her work is darker and opposes the first feeling the spectator takes from the work. The meticulously sewn threads outline the way she perceives her relationship with the world and herself.
You founded Cream Athens in 2017. Can you tell me about the creative agency and what inspired you to form the agency?
When I graduated with my BA in Visual Arts and Art History, I was excited to immerse myself in the world and explore collaboration and development opportunities within Greece. Athens is a magical city but I felt that the existing opportunities were not open to the wider public but to a limited group of people. The art scene in Athens was and still is characterized by nepotism, as you see the same names everywhere, over and over again and if you also consider the lack of governmental support, you feel despair.
Art for me is the most beautiful and unspoken means of communication. However, the arts industry as it currently stands seems to have an old-fashioned repetitive structure, and that tradition needs to change. Society has connected ‘success’ with an artist’s development through big art institutions, famous galleries, unpaid internships, and more. Reality is completely different though. Nowadays, new age galleries and collectives are proving to larger institutions the importance of inclusivity and new ways of thinking and working.
This is when I decided to create what I was looking for myself. A space to learn how to be professional in your field, create opportunities rather than searching for them, and collaborate to transform ideas into actions.
Cream Athens is a creative agency that presents an alternative to the traditional gallery model, by offering artists the right tools to develop their careers, build credibility and visibility, and most importantly provide a more inclusive environment for them. We achieve this by offering 1-2-1 and group consultation sessions and workshops, and by organizing physical and digital exhibitions, talks, and events. Our strategy is to initiate and support creative communities by working with galleries, brands, and different partners across the globe.
I am grateful for having the opportunity to work closely with artists and mentor them on presenting themselves, feeling powerful for what they do, and reflecting this on their practice. A skillset, vital for their career, that can be obtained only through trial and error and experience in the field of art.
Can you tell me some of your favourite Cream Athens projects and why?
My favorite project is the Whipped exhibition, because the theme was connected to our brand name, creating interesting connotations (like ‘whipped cream’) and also it was our official last physical show before the pandemic started.
Whipped showcased 23 artists from different regions and explored nowness and the issues of contemporary culture, inspired by the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who proclaimed – “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. Nothing is forever and everything is in a state of constant and continuous change. Based on the underpinning philosophies of Heraclitus, Whipped exhibition aroused the visitors’ visual senses, by blending together these 23 artists, and presenting ideas on what should change, what we should keep the same and where is the value in our society.
Our exhibiting artists were Alex Jones, Artemis Vergou, Camila Gonzalez Corea, Christina Anagnostou, Dimitris Ntokos, Elliot Avis, Emily Gaki, Eve De Haan, Fungai Marima, George Petsikopoulos, Henry Glover, Huang Chiachia, Irini Bachlitzanaki, John Valyrakis, Lauren Fejarang, Mara Kallinikou, Maria Kalaoglou, Neo Gilder, Nia Hefe Filiogianni, Odysseas Glykas, Pao Leng Kung, Sam Creasey, and Samantha Rosenwald.
The exhibition took place at the Coningsby Gallery in Goodge Street, London with numerous collaborations with magazines, art shops, and creatives, and a series of workshops and events during its duration.
After Whipped we presented Not Applicable, a ground-breaking virtual exhibition of 16 emerging artists that introduced a different form of gallery environment; an environment new and challenging, but full of potential.
Going out of the pandemic with a slow pace, we used the quarantine time to expand our network of art collectors and artists and plan for an optimistic future full of large exhibitions and events open to the public.
Your work presents a multitude of themes that include the beauty and the ugliness, the investigation of an emotional turmoil expressed in a very symbolic language; where do you draw your reference from when exploring these ideas?
My art practice is heavily based on semiotics, and it’s expressed through recycled textile collages and a very distinct pastel color palette. All my pieces talk about politics, social issues, and love, expressed in a relatively symbolic language, inspired by the combination of ancient and contemporary Greek culture and philosophy. Most of my references are drawn through research on Ancient Greek philosophy and art books, but also from contemporary culture and current issues.
Your practice lies between mixed media painting and collage, using primarily recycled textiles, gouache and wood. Where do you source your materials from?
All my recycled materials are sourced from Greece. I am collaborating with some small factories that produce garments and I am visiting them every two to three months to see what is available. Using recycled textiles doesn’t mean that I source my materials for free. I believe that you always need to give in order to take and in terms of fairness, that’s the least I can do to support Greek businesses. The arranged plan is that I choose the textiles I want to work with, and I pay for them but at a discounted price.
Can you talk me through your creative process – how do you initiate creating new work?
I have a really short memory; for this reason, I always record myself talking with my phone, to ensure that I have kept my thoughts safe for the moment. The truth is that the inspiration for my work comes in the most unexpected times.
After, I usually listen to the recording and keep notes on my computer to initiate my research, process, and timings. I usually get inspired by a current incident or situation, and then I draw lines to connect it with historical and cultural references. When I have a clear idea of what I want to do, I choose the fabrics I want to work with, and then I sew them together by hand or I use my sewing machine. The sewing process is the most important part for me; the time I spend connecting the pieces together is my moment of truth, my meditation.
What would you say are the biggest differences between the contemporary art scene in London and Athens?
The ability to change and evolve is something we all have to nurture, and you only get that from being open to new influences. That’s what London is about; a rich, diverse place of endless possibilities; a city full of ambiguous creative individuals that make their ideas into actions, collaborate, and create new opportunities for participation. London has numerous commercial galleries but also a variety of alternative project spaces and experimental artist-led galleries, which help define the city’s art ecology.
On the other hand, Athens has a versatile cultural identity and magical energy full of potential, although it’s moving at a slower pace than London. The truth is that contemporary art in Greece is kept alive mostly due to the private initiatives, as there are no grants or government funding that could support artists or help in the creation of big art institutions and museums but also sustain the existing galleries and collective initiatives. Athens didn’t have a national contemporary art museum until recently, as it originally opened back in 2000 but didn’t have a permanent exhibition space until last year; even the first Athens Biennial was in 2005.
At the moment, most of the existing Athenian galleries are struggling to survive, but there are many new spaces and initiatives from young individuals that do a great job and shape a new reality for the city. I believe that young people have the ability to build strong strategies to improve the current situation and I am hopeful that the Athenian contemporary art scene will excite us in the next three years, despite the lack of governmental support.
How have you navigated the pandemic and how has it affected your creative practice?
The pandemic felt like something happened really fast and I (as everyone else) lost two years of my life.
During the first year of the pandemic, I managed to focus on my practice and produce 32 pieces, while having two jobs (one full-time and one part-time).
The pandemic gave me the opportunity to prioritize what is important for me, and organize my day to my benefit. During those two years, I changed my routines, tried new things, spent more time in the digital space, met people from every part of the world, and enjoyed the experience of organising and curating virtual events and exhibitions.
I have to say that the pandemic was fun and I am really grateful that I could spend this weird period of my life inside a cozy flat, with a fridge full of food, unlimited internet, my loved ones, and maintain my job, working remotely. It would be unfair from my side to complain when I know that in the previous pandemics my grandparents didn’t have any of the above.