MEET HELENA. HELENA IS A PERFORMER, A STORY TELLER, AND AN ARTIST. HER INSPIRING WORK SPEAKS ABOUT SOCIETY AT LARGE THROUGH EXPRESSING PERSONAL EXPERIENCES.
You’re a multidisciplinary performer and storyteller – how did you get to the point where you decided that that is what you are?
I’ve always been aware I was an artist, I grew up having several outlets for my creativity, so getting to the point where I’m at is more about making sure I take consistent steps towards my future. A key moment was feeling like I had to take charge in telling my own stories and I started working on Kaleidoscope Stories and SQUAD soon after (back in mid-2015).
Growing up in Paris and London then training in New York, now being based in Toronto – what was it like moving from city to city?
It’s a lot. It’s enriching but also very challenging. I’ve never lived anywhere for 5 years straight, so now the move to Toronto definitely had me hoping I could create a homebase, and that it would be a match socio-politically and economically.
How do you like life in Toronto, anything you miss about New York, Paris and/or London?
I like Toronto, the cold is the main thing that’s tough! I definitely love the possibilities and communities here! I miss things from each place I’ve lived in, that’s why I love going back when I can. My family is all over the world, but my parents and siblings are in Paris so I go often for example.
You’ve created ‘SQUAD’ and now your latest, ‘Kaleidoscope Stories’. They’re both so different, ‘SQUAD’ is a comedy and ‘Kaleidoscope Stories’ is a docu-series. Where did you find inspiration while you were creating these series?
My life, always. And that means both my lived experience and my perception of my environments. Everyone has a story (worth telling), but the how and the why are different. So my biggest goal is to shake up how we represent BIPOC and typically marginalized communities.
Is there a Kaleidoscope story that really stuck with you?
All of them! My favorite wouldn’t be about the story, but more about what we achieved aesthetically (on purpose or not, because that’s the magic of documentaries). Story-wise, they’re all incredible and that’s why the guests were picked in the first place.
As a multidisciplinary performer and storyteller, what is your main focus or topic of exploration?
Telling complex stories, multi-layered stories is my focus. Overall my angle(s) are often love, healing and purpose. I really love honing the power to inspire others personally and professionally. I always make sure I navigate those topics through mostly non-white characters.
In Kaleidoscope stories you often explore the intersectionality of each interviewee, identity is so multifaceted which is what makes it so special – are there aspects of your identity that you often think about when storytelling or performing?
I’m a work in progress, so some aspects of my identity that I think of are areas of growth like healing my own trauma, romantic relationship, my deep desire to always connect people and another one is my Cameroonian background. Being Afro-European means I’m at an intersection and that intersection isn’t often discussed. There’s a lot of denial around the identity crisis for the descendants of immigrants in Europe (especially non-white). I also have some insecurities around being “Cameroonian enough”. Growing up I had insecurities about my place as French/European. And that’s JUST the culture part! The importance of sisterhood is another obsession of mine. I’m in constant awe of women, cis and trans.
Often creatives also create work in alignment with their beliefs – you mentioned love and purpose being a focus for you. Beyond the literal definition of the words – what do love and purpose mean in the context of your life? what does it look like in your work?
Love means striving to be the best me, so I can be an amazing friend, sister, daughter, partner... And my purpose is to leave a legacy as an unapologetic storyteller because I challenged the status quo. What it looks like: creating what I’ve been creating, who I create it with and for.
Looking back at your life what are your greatest accomplishments thus far?
Releasing work, despite the hurdles over the years. Writing my first movie and pilot in the last few months!
When do you feel most empowered?
“Refaire le monde” is the idiom that best translates my empowered mood, and I think it translates to “re-imagining/creating the world”. So it could be while on set, but also when I eat great food, in great company and with the best ambiance (I love hosting). When I feel good and contribute to making people feel and think good too! Interestingly enough, I realize now it’s probably the first time ever that I use my native French to express empowerment...
Which physical attributes do you love the most?
Probably the ones linked to my face. My eyebrows, cheekbones, diastema and dimples. My mother’s side gave me dope nails too.