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Dallas artist Niki Dionne uses wool, whimsy to spotlight Black women

Niki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Niki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center. The exhibit is open for public viewing from April 7 - May 27.

Dallas artist Niki Dionne makes vibrant needle felted sculptures and murals that depict Black women in everyday life. Her exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center, titled “Actual Footage of Me,” is on view for its last week, but the artist said she’s hopeful to do many more under the same name in the future.

If you walk through the gallery space, it's really whimsical. You'll see Black women doing mundane things, like sitting poolside. It's not heavy, you know, but it still gives you the opportunity to kind of look at yourself in the work that's on the wall,” she said.

“Actual Footage of Me” features work from as early as 2016, when the artist first began to develop her signature playful and vibrant style as a fiber artist.

“I wanted this to kind of be a collection of work that I haven't shown before, that shows my journey from when I started to now,” she said. 

Nikki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Niki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center. The exhibit is open for public viewing from April 7 - May 27.

After graduating from college, Dionne began working at a nonprofit called Craft Yarn Council, where she learned how to work with a new medium. She said the techniques she learned, like needle felting, were a way to bring her art to life in a different way.

“Felting is basically taking loose wool, and you take a serrated needle, and you stab it repeatedly into like a backing of some sort,” she said. “It creates this really soft fabric and it's almost like coloring with wool.”

As much as she loved experimenting with the medium, Dionne said it was never her intention to work as an artist full time. Instead, making art gave her the time she needed to engage with herself.

This is an opportunity for me to like, work on myself and heal myself in my relationship with who I am as a Black woman, and also in a fun way, that's not heavy,” she said.

Art depicting Black women was largely absent from gallery walls Dionne encountered, and even when it was present, it didn’t always feel accessible to her.

When I did see Black women being illustrated, it was like that realistic, beautiful style, where you see all of the tonalities of skin and all of that,” she said. “But I've never really seen them broken down into the most basic of illustrations.”

From proportions to color choice, Dionne’s depictions reject the constraints of the real world. She said she embraces the fun and fanciful interpretations of women that she believes can be more relatable.

Niki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
Niki Dionne’s artwork on display in the ‘Actual Footage of Me’ exhibit at the South Dallas Cultural Center. The exhibit is open for public viewing from April 7 - May 27.

“I love when people see themselves in my work. That's a big reason why my women are faceless, because it makes it just a little bit easier to see yourself,” she said. “That's actually the reason why my show is called ‘Actual Footage of Me,’ actually. That's the reason why my entire art brand is called Actual Footage of Me. Because when I started, I wanted to make art that other Black women, or friends of Black women, or family members can see the people that they love in.”

You can follow artist Niki Dionne on Instagram @actualfootageofme. Actual Footage of Me is on view at the South Dallas Cultural Center until Saturday, May 27. 

Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, city of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Michelle Aslam is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow and recent graduate from North Texas. While in college, she won state-wide student journalism awards for her investigation into campus sexual assault proceedings and her reporting on racial justice demonstrations. Aslam previously interned for the North Texas NPR Member station KERA, and also had the opportunity to write for the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Observer.