Born in Waipukurau, Hawkes Bay, Aotearoa New Zealand. Helen Donnelly is an interdisciplinary artist: filmmaker, photographer, and visual graphics designer - who, having lived for 22 years in Wellington, now chooses to live in the rural indigenous Maori-dominant town of Wairoa, New Zealand.
Helen is Co-producer of Women Immigrant Artists NZ (WIA2020) collective with Curator & Textile Designer Deb Donnelly.
Helen is a third generation New Zealander with Irish and British ancestry.
Though not a migrant herself and with no Maori whakapapa, Helen is nonetheless drawn to other cultures which have different values than that of her own white European/Pakeha heritage. She believes this is because of personal experience with her own culture. Her spirit and soul resonate with cultures that are more connective, expressive, spiritual and emotional. Hence the reason why Helen loves living in the beautiful coastal town of Wairoa, which is majority Maori in population.
After studying film theory (with Professor Russell Campbell) and art history at Victoria University (1995) and photography at Wellington Polytechnic (1996), Helen worked as volunteer photographer for various entities such as Wellington Fringe Festival and Gay Express Magazine (Auckland). At the same time she worked at Wellington City Libraries as a Team Member which entailed creating promotional material, signage, and photographic and written content for their website. After 2 years visual communications design (computer graphics) study at Massey University, Wellington, Helen then began making video content for Wellington City Libraries website and plasma tv screens.
During her work at Newtown Branch Library, Wellington (2001-2012), Helen befriended the Iraqi Assyrian Christian refugee community who lived in the area. Assyrian Christians are a minority ethno-religious group indigenous to Iraq. She began to document their cultural events in both photography and video. In an effort to learn more about their culture, history and to film her own independent documentary about the reasons for their becoming a diaspora, Helen visited Iraq four times from 2011-2014. The last visit was for 7 months, during which ISIS invaded, and Helen was able to document the situation of the minorities, particularly the Assyrians and Yazidis, displaced by war.
In 2012 Helen toured the U.S. and Canada filming interviews with academics and experts in Assyrian history and language for her feature documentary. While in Canada she studied film at Raindance Canada and the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers Toronto (LIFT).
Since returning to NZ, Helen began working on a documentary about her experiences of 2014 in Iraq (working title: The Answer) for which she received a grant from the NZ Govt PADET (Peace & Disarmament Education Trust) for production costs. From this she staged a preliminary short screening in 2016, and now is currently working on a screenplay for the feature.
From 2010 Helen began collaborating creatively with her cousin Deb Donnelly (textile designer, curator and programme co-ordinator at Whitireia NZ Visual Arts & Design dept) using photography and film. This has culminated in their current co-production of WIA 2020, Women Immigrant Artists NZ collective, which began in 2019 with their first iteration of a social practice installation ‘A Place at the Kauri Table’.
As well as co-producing, Helen’s roles in the collective are varied using skills such as interviewing, filmmaking, photography, website design, audio editing, lighting design and is currently learning digital 3D modelling. The purpose of this is to add AR (augmented reality) content to the A Place at the Kauri Table installation.