Colour, culture and wellbeing: interview with Turkish Cypriot artist Ayten Nightingale ahead of her new solo exhibition

If you’re looking to discover and support Turkish creative talent outside of London, then head to theUrban Arts Studio in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, where works by painter and tapestry weaver Ayten Nightingale are currently on display as a group exhibition.

From September, even more of Nightingale’s art works will be on show at the venue’s gallery for a solo exhibition, which will run until December. The event is being opened to the public by St Annes’ Mayor, Cllr Karen Harrison on 2 September.

T-VINE caught up with the London-born, now Lancashire-based artist to ask her about her family roots, her journey into art and future aspirations.

Tell us about your family roots Ayten

I am a 53-year-old Turkish Cypriot, born and raised in London. My late parents were from Mansoura. My father was a soldier and my mother a housewife. They arrived in London in the 1960s.

I came from a poor working class family and lived in a council property in South London, with my two brothers and one sister.

Growing up, women in my community were not expected to be educated and were not encouraged. The expected choice for girls was to have an arranged marriage. I decided otherwise, and followed in my brothers’ footsteps; I decided to study.

I’m now married, living ‘Up North’, and have a 13-year-old daughter.

When did you move to Lancashire?

I have lived in London for most of my life. I moved away to Medway, in Kent, living there for about 5 years before I moved to St Annes on Sea in 2015, shortly after losing both my parents in a six-months spell. 

How did you get into art?

I was a shy child, who discovered art at school. My art teacher didn’t like my work, even though I got an ‘A’ in O Level art. Thankfully another art teacher loved my work and encouraged me to carry on.

I studied mostly textiles, first at Camberwell College of Art and then Cumbria College of Art.

Tapestry and painting by Ayten Nightingale


I spent two years volunteering at the South London Art Gallery too, and I did a degree in Cultural Studies at the University of Greenwich, where I met my husband.

I went on to do a teacher training course in Huddersfield.

Professionally, I have worked in adult education for 25 years, mainly in teaching, where I coach adults back to work by teaching work skills, personal development and crafts. My role now is mostly as a consultant.

Tell us about your art journey and how did you ended up doing tapestries

My mother used to knit chunky rugs. I guess this was traditional. She and my eldest sister used to do machine sewing. At this point I wasn’t interested.

When I was at school, I found I enjoyed painting and photography. My teacher introduced us to rug making. I then enrolled at Camberwell College of Art on a decorative art course, where we were introduced to painting, drawing, screen printing, ceramic painting and tapestry weaving.

I decided I wanted to do more, so I continued to explore art and textiles, and went on to Cumbria College of Art. When I completed this course, I returned to London and was part of a Turkish group in South London for the next two years.

I became one of the founders of a Turkish youth club in Southwark, where I used my skills to deliver art sessions. We hired a then unknown Tracy Emin as one of the artists during the launch, and also Haluk Bilginer, who was really famous as he’d been starring in Eastenders. I delivered workshops in print and weaving for young people. It was during this time that I also did my degree in Cultural Studies.

Eastenders actor Haluk Bilginer worked with Ayten and others on their Turkish Youth Project in Southwark


Around this time, I joined a Cypriot arts group in Camden. It was through them that I held my first public exhibition in 1992 under my maiden name Ayten Zeki. The group exhibition was as part of the Camden Cypriot Festival, and featured lots of great Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot artists. I was aged 23.

My first solo exhibition happened the same year. I presented textile works at Thomas Calton School in Dulwich as part of Southwark Turkish Group. Since then I have had my art featured in other solo and group shows, most recently I presented a solo show at the Palatine Library in Blackpool in 2019, and as part of a group exhibition at the Hive Art Gallery from 2020 to 2021.

My art is about me, wellbeing, culture and colour. I have featured all these elements in my work for many years. I also enjoy photography and writing.

I have had training in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) and coaching, and I believe these work hand-in-hand with art and helping to improve one’s wellbeing.

What are you looking to achieve in art?

After a long career in teaching and coaching, I have decided to come back to my art. I felt when I moved to Lancashire that it would be a moment to relaunch myself. So I began by getting to know the art community. I have since participated in the local Kite and Food Festival, and other short workshops.

My aim now is to promote Turkish and Cypriot arts to Lancashire. I feel there is currently too little representation of ethnic artists in the county.

Ayten Nightingale, Aug. 2020. Photo © Veli Kirk



I have had a few exhibitions locally in libraries and other venues. Fylde district, which includes St Anne’s, has potential to grow the arts and better represent ethnic minority groups.

Art is also a great way to help with our wellbeing. Its importance needs to be more strongly emphasised on school curriculums, and more adults be encouraged to take art up.

During the pandemic, I started writing down my thoughts on an assorted range of topics, including my experiences in teaching and wellbeing. There’s also some poetry. Perhaps it will end up as a book. I’ve yet to decide which direction I will take though, as it’s a first time [experience] for me.

How would you describe your art style?

A trio of elephants, painting by Ayten Nightingale


I love colour, and to be free with my choice of artistic medium. It can be oils, wools, pastels, ink. I am inspired by culture, people, life and music.

Which artists do you admire?

Post impressionists: Monet, Manet, Cezanne, and Mark Wilkinson, who designs album covers. Also Grayson Perry tapestries, and Picasso. Actually too many to mention. 

Where’s your new exhibition?

I have about 10 pieces currently on show at the Urban Arts Studio, along with other artists. The group exhibition is being promoted as part of the St Annes on Sea Music Festival that runs from 27 to 29 August, and supported by St Anne’s Town Council and local councillors.

Tapestry weave of a head by Ayten Nightingale


I will be adding to these artworks at the gallery when it re-opens as my solo exhibition in September.

Exhibition Details

Title: Ayten Nightingale

Start date: 2 September 2022, runs until December 2022

Opening days and times: the art gallery is open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 3pm

Venue:  Urban Arts Gallery at the Urban Arts Studio, Back St Annes Road West, Lytham Saint Annes, Lancashire FY8 1QR

Admission: free to attend

More info: for more information about Ayten, and her work, or to contact her, visit her Facebook page: