I was was born into the heat wave and the blizzard that was 1950's Quebec. My mother named me Nyla and pronounced it Nee la. She is francophone Catholic from a tiny fishing village on the Gaspe peninsula. My father was from anglophone Anglican Westmount. They found a flat to rent in a largely Jewish neighbourhood of Montreal and this added yet another cultural flavour to the mix. Summers my family spent on the delightful salty shores where le fleuve St. Laurent meets the Atlantic Ocean.
The cultural diversity was rich. But the socio/political tension was palpable for someone 'in between' and it propelled me early on to find perspective in the wider world. By my late teens I was travelling in the Sahara desert and up into the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It was the beginning of a fascination with the African continent and the wealth of cultural expression available to its diverse populations. A decade or so later I was living and working in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho and witnessing the last death throes of the South African apartheid regime. It was here I gave birth to the first of my two children with novelist husband Paul Sunga (Red Dust, Red Sky; The Lions; Because of Nothing At All) Later we travelled extensively as a family through Kenya and Tanzania.
Three themes inform my current work: on going thoughts about the richness of my time spent in Africa, my search for identity within the context of Quebec, and the spiritual dimensions inherent in the making and giving of music.
I continue to work on a short story I wrote and illustrated based on my mother's upbringing in the picturesque village of Perce during the years of the Great Depression. Initial research for this work of historical fiction was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. (see "P'ti Coat Blanc" in the illustration studio)
I am largely self taught. I've worked in book and magazine illustration, sign and mural painting, and art teaching. My Oncle Raymond Quirion, whose paintings of Perce village grace walls through out North America, influenced me with the largesse of his spirit. I also thank Morten Rosengarten (Mosaic CEGEP, Montreal) whose unorthodox teaching methods turned my ideas about drawing upside down.
I was lucky a few years back to sing in the production "Sing Justice!" with Eric Dozier's OHF choir featuring actor Blu Mankumba. And when I sang back up to Kentish Steele and the Night Train Revue I got to wear the perfect Motown dress and pretend I was a Motown singer. I've sung in the Good Noise Gospel Choir, the Universal Gospel Choir and the Marcus Mosley Chorale, choirs that have shared the stage with such luminaries as Jim Byrnes, Dee Daniels and Leon Bibb. Too much fun! And I am one of the world famous "Doo Wah Sisters" who've been singing together in kitchens since teenage years in Montreal.
But my favourite thing, more than painting, more than singing, is a good dance party.