Grief is a complex and often taboo topic, but Annie Nicholson, the founder of Fandangoe Kid Studios, has made it her mission to challenge this taboo and start important conversations about the intersection of grief and mental health.
Fandangoe Kid Studios is a multi-disciplinary art brand that Annie created about 10 years ago, and it has since become a platform for exploring these sensitive and difficult topics.
In this interview, Annie opens up about her personal experience with grief and how it transformed her life and her art. She also shares her thoughts on the importance of discussing grief and mental health and how they are intrinsically linked.
Q: Can you tell us about the origins of Fandangoe Kid and how it relates to your work on grief and mental health?
Annie: Fandangoe Kid is my alter ego that I created after finishing art school, courtesy of my father. I've always wanted to do public-facing work, and I am a multi-disciplinary artist, mostly working in the public realm. However, I've only been full-time as an artist since 2018, as that's when I was first able to fund it.
My work looks at challenging the taboo around all the intersections of grief and mental health by association. It also then seems to look at other taboos around the human condition, so it does also take its own journey because it's very public facing.
Q: Can you talk about the personal experience with grief that inspired your work?
Annie: The name Fandangoe Kid came about at a time when my family was all still alive. As I graduated, I experienced a horrible break-up with a terrible guy. When I returned to London, my family was involved in a tragic accident, and I lost so many of them.
This changed everything and transformed every part of my life and being. This accident made everything I now stand for.
Luckily, most people don't go through a lot of terrible things. When it happened, I took it and thought, "Well, this is something that has actually happened to me, so how do I make a life?" This huge thing was in me, around me and on me. Working that out and working out how to integrate that with my practice has been a huge change.
Q: How did you navigate your grief and integrate it with your art practice?
Annie: I was teaching and filling sketchbooks, and then suddenly, I wasn't confident enough to show my work publicly because it's so raw that there needs to be a degree of processing.
When I was navigating my own grief, I realised that there was just such an absence of safe and interesting outlets for young people to go and share the complexities of grief. The offerings weren't right for me. They were very rigid and didn't fit the grief I was experiencing because it was this life-transformational grief at a time that felt like my youth was over.
I wasn't ready for it to be over either, and all my mates were going to raves, and I was jealous of that. It felt like such an abrupt ending to my life.
Q: Can you talk about the importance of talking about grief and mental health?
Annie: My practice is very much connected to my life, so it's hard not to share those details with you. I think they [mental health and grief] are absolutely bound to each other. It would be ridiculous to consider it otherwise, really.
When you're experiencing grief, whether it's complicated grief, political grief, or climate grief, all these different things thread into each other. They affect your immediate short-term existence and much longer-term existence because they interact and intersect with your mental health.
Fandangoe Kid. Image Credit: Tara Darby
Q: Why was it important for you to show grief?
Annie: It's really important to show the slow practice of integrating grief and handling that pain rather than having a mission to get rid of it because that is such a losing battle.
The aim is also to not get to a point where you don't ever talk about it either coz talking through it is such a catharsis. ultimately it becomes a part of you, and that's become part of me. It’s a through line to those people that you have lost.
Q: We noticed that you host grief raves. How did this come about?
Annie: Well, I carried on dancing the whole time at home, so it was all very private. I like music and going out, but I couldn’t be exposed to the unknown public at that time.
Re-entering the world and that connection to the dance floor has been really important to me. It’s about reclaiming life and reclaiming those lost years, but it’s also the line between life and death like a continuum.
When I’m dancing, I can really connect to my sister, almost as if she’s in the room. There’s something really amazing about shaking out that deep pain and trauma and being connected on a sensory level.
Q: Why do you think people are so hesitant to speak up about their grief?
Annie: Fear dominates so much of our society. When you experience something that brings you closer to the spectrum of death, you have to step out of your life as you know it There are some people who go into that realm, and so much of their life changes that the meaning of life changes altogether.”
Once you’ve gone there, you want to try and bridge that gap that opens the desire to talk about that through line between life and death. You’ve been so close to it, and I think it shakes up the essence of who you are. For the majority of people, they never have to go there.
If I hadn’t of gone, then I would be so blissfully ignorant, but I think there’s fear when you haven’t been exposed to it. I just think you’re avoiding the inevitable. Most because people don’t have the language or tools to talk about it. No one ever taught them. We don’t talk about death in school. It’s the one inevitable thing!
Q: What advice would you give those currently navigating their grief?
Annie: Treat it how you would treat a relationship that you have agency within that you can learn to grow and be fond of and love and nurture and develop it. You move through it. It’s an ongoing lifelong relationship so it grows and changes and goes through new phases and new errors.
Don’t imagine that it will ever go away. Try and think of the liberation in that and how you can integrate parts of it. There are some really tender poignant parts of grief because it means you activated your memory in a way that you may never have had to before.
To find our more about the Fandangoe Kid Studios, click here.