Nikki de Gruchy is hard to pin down; she recently finished a photography exhibition at the ethnographic museum in Riogordo, in the Axarquía, and from there she flew to Lanzarote to participate in the annual PhotoEspaña PhotoWalk. She took part in the Cómpeta Artwalk for the first time this April and had an exhibition in the Jardines de la Concepción in Malaga this year too. When I caught up with her, via Skype, she was in the UK before coming back to Malaga for the ArteX Collective exhibition at the Las Lagunas Casa de la Cultura in Mijas, where she, along other Spanish and foreign artists, will be showing their work from 5 December until 5 January.
Nikki describes herself as a "nomad" and says she can't really say where home is. She was born and brought up on a farm on Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, but moved to Australia in her early 20s. She has also worked in New Zealand, Kenya, the USA (Texas) and Spain and until 2004 she worked in corporate finance in the UK and abroad.
"I spent all my time in open-plan offices with air conditioning, moving numbers around basically," explains Nikki. She adds that all of that was having a "terrible effect" on her health and that she came to the realisation that "there was more to life".
Nikki explains that she started to investigate natural therapies as traditional medicine was "not helping" with the health problems she was experiencing while working in an office environment. She also started to study photography and returned to university. "A friend of mine had just gone back to university as a mature student and I thought that if she could do it then so could I."
Nikki completed an HND (Higher National Diploma) and went on to get a BA in photography; at the same time she studied holistic therapy and began to change her life completely. Having been brought up on a farm, she started to go back, literally, to her roots, and took a keen interest in the way that not only nature can help us, in terms of natural therapies, but also what we can do to help nature.
Through her photography, interest in gardening and other projects, Nikki has managed to inter-link everything that she has become passionate about since leaving the very unnatural environment of an air-conditioned office in the corporate world.
Discovering the Axarquía
Nikki first came to the Axarquía in the early 2000s with an ex-partner, with whom she bussed around the cities of Andalucía. "We are both from the country so we didn't just want to see big cities, we wanted to see something of rural Andalucía as well," she explains.
Speaking no Spanish at the time, they managed to find a bed and breakfast run by an English couple in Canillas de Albaída. The couple stayed there and she confesses that they "fell in love" with the area and "didn't want to leave". However, at the time Nikki still had her job in finance.
Not long after the first visit, Nikki bought a house in the village and it has been one of her bases ever since, although, she and her Podenco cross, Oro, travel a lot especially between the UK and the Axarquía.
"Having Oro means I do the journey by car a lot but I couldn't leave him," admits the animal-lover.
Being in this part of the world has allowed her to really develop the interests that she started to explore through holistic therapy and photography after quitting the day job.
She says she is also interested in agricultural tourism, which is enjoying something of a revolution here in the Axarquía at the moment, with subtropical fruit growers offering tours of their plantations. However, Nikki would undoubtedly dispute modern farming techniques which she explains are counterproductive and destroying centuries-old ecosystems.
Nikki is hoping to teach people, through her photography, as well as through tours that she has started to run from her home in Canillas de Albaída, with the help of a local environmental expert, about habitat destruction as well as showing people "nature in its truest form".
Her last photography exhibition, in Riogordo, showed off the Axarquía's orchids, of which she explains there are almost 40 species. "People just assume that there aren't that many varieties and that they only bloom at certain times of year. They were amazed when I told them I was off to photograph them at other times of the year and told me I wouldn't find any," she points out.
There will be another opportunity to see the orchids at the exhibition in Mijas.
"Even I have noticed a changed in the biodiversity of this area and I have only been here for 18 years," comments Nikki.
"You just have to read about the desperate water situation at the reservoir and every time I drive up through the Axarquía on my way to Canillas it seems that there is another mango or avocado plantation," she laments.
What she is trying to do through both her photography and the agricultural tours, she explains, is "teach people to be more aware of what we are doing to the planet. It's like a call to action."
Nikki has had some surprising reactions to her tours so far. "I take people out for a walk in the sierra at night, when it's really dark and a lot of people are terrified. They are scared of the wild animals or just the darkness which surrounds them," she remarks.
Having been brought up on a farm, nature itself is not frightening to her, but what humans are doing to it is.
"We are in control of nature and that's wrong," she concludes.