17 October 2018
I want those who can make significant change to see us artists and what we’re screaming for, and to help us push forward. I hope my message resonates and continues the wave of a revolution that has already begun.
Zarita Zevallos combines visuals of the human body with contemporary narratives of marginalisation and injustice. Interpreting the words of interviewees, her art reflects the experiences of those oppressed at the hands of the state. Zarita talks to WE THE OUTLIERS about her influences and motivations.
How did you get into photography?
My father always had a passion for photography. He’s the only one to have documented our childhood and other rare occasions to date. I admired that about him. Through him I learned a few tricks and, finally, got a digital camera in 2014. I still use that camera today.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
It mainly comes from conversations with other people; the different views we have in different communities; the comparisons I make when I think of my own mindset in the past; and my need or urge to speak out against the wrongdoings in our society.
You were raised in Haiti, but you are now based in the US. What influence have these two places had on your photography?
I have had the opportunity to be in a comfortable social class in a country that gave me so much privilege because of the colour of my skin. Moving to New York made me realize just how much privilege I had. It forced me to grow and put in twice the work and then some to get half of what is due to me. I am able to compare how I lived before and how I live now. I am able to correct my own mind. I try to create artwork for others to open their eyes even while living in a country where there are layers of ignorance hidden behind the name of ‘culture’ or ‘being conservative’.
Race and gender are recurring themes in your photography. With regards to those themes, what do you want your audience to take away from your work?
These are two themes that cause disagreement between people in my Haitian community and also in other black communities. Many of us were raised with prejudice, classism, and homophobia. There is always something we use to feel “better” than others in our community. Sometimes I don’t even hint at gender issues in photos, but the fact that two men are physically “too” close leads many people, men and women, to think the concept is about being gay. I want people to allow themselves to understand that the comments they make are just a projection of their own mind and not necessarily what I’m portraying, although I do enjoy the interpretation and criticism. Just as an artist exposes their opinion and art, allow yourself to question your education and where it comes from. Does it really reflect who you are? Have you questioned yourself to know where you truly stand? How deeply do you believe your comments? And why? This is all I want: question yourself before questioning what you are looking at. Why do you feel the way you do? Why does it bother you, or why does it make you happy? I want honesty because I am exposing my own. I convey my message through dynamic poses and sensitive details of the face, especially the eyebrows, lips, eyes, and hand positions. I also add an element, which carries the concept, on top of the photo.
On your website, you present your photo series as narratives accompanied by texts. Do these texts inform the photography, or vice versa?
I write my concepts before shooting, or at least I have a draft in order to have a direction for the model and myself. I find that the emotions are stronger when everyone has an idea of what they’re modelling for. I do different styles of narratives: I either write the concept and add the photos after, or I have a conversation with different people who embody the concept. I have them tell their own story rather than me telling it for them. I play around with the presentation, but the concept always comes first, then the photos, and finally the set up in the narratives section of my website.
What challenges have you experienced with your photography and how have you overcome these challenges?
On a personal level? Every time I have to edit photos in my personal style, I cry and get frustrated because I have to find the solution on my own as it has never been done this way. I’m laughing now thinking about it, but it’s so much work. I’ve torn up so many photos thinking I can’t do it. I’ve cried and stopped working for months; it’s been six months since I touched my new series. But my friends usually tell me to calm down, to give it time, and to come back to it with a clear mind. It’s important for me to convey my message in my own way. I think I need to, for myself.
What motivates you to continue creating art?
It’s going to sound corny, but I really hope that others are watching. I want those who can make significant change to see us artists and what we’re screaming for, and to help us push forward. I hope my message resonates and continues the wave of a revolution that has already begun.
‘Kòktèl’, the Haitian Creole word for cocktail, is an experimental photo series that explores the diversity of Black masculinity, as black men are made of many wonders. The colourful thread bending, crossing, and extending is used to signify the feeling of being trapped as well as the idea of building one’s identity. At the time I was working on this concept, the US president as well as the senate in Haiti were threatening the rights of the gay community, and they did so successfully and inhumanely. It added more passion and purpose to my work in general. I still believe that art can change the world and push people to make a change as it once did.
‘Pariah’ tells the story of oppressed men and women of colour, shackled under a government still seeking to control or destroy them. Minor offenses result in life sentences, forever branding the convicted as criminals, even upon release. That reality is what I am exposing through my artwork. Our models convey the emotions of prisoners through their body language; the wires piercing deep into their bodies represent the cages those prisoners will never escape.
What projects have you got coming up?
I’m currently working on a project related to the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico last year and the false information that was reported in the news.