Hailing from Washington D.C., Samera Paz creates 2D and performance works that speak on the social and political experiences as a Black woman in the US. She talks to us about the risks of documenting her own community, performance art as an invasion of her privacy, and the feminine urge and rebellion that runs through her blood.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Samera Paz is an artist from Washington D.C. of Colombian-American heritage. Her work oscillates between 2D visual work and performance art. She is interested in documenting themes surrounding her cultural identity, her mental health journey, and work that speaks on social and political experiences as a Black woman in America. C& América Latina speaks to Samera about art, archive, and social justice.
C&AL: Can you explain your process and how the two mediums you use help convey your ideas?
Samera Paz: Image-making can be an invasion of another’s privacy. Performance art is an invasion of my privacy. In the past my photographic work involved photographing friends, family, strangers. Sometimes during very intimate moments. Sometimes with permission and other times without. I was in a space where being a photographer and documenting the people and events around me could be harmful to my community of activists, Black people, and my fellow peers. Over the years, I’ve gained a new perspective on how to use photography, and now I’m leaning towards creating new bodies of work that turn the camera on just myself. Performance art is different in the sense that I have complete control and my physical body and existence is the artwork. Performance gives me the space to practice vulnerability openly with an audience and connect with others in a unique way. All my ideas stem from this never-ending feminine urge and feminist rebellion that runs through my blood.
Photo: courtesy of the artist
C&AL: Your work is traversed by ideas of social justice. What’s your opinion on the power of art to support social protest and promote change?
SP: Art is a bridge and tool in the social justice movement. I grew up as a Black girl in a lower-class community to an immigrant-turned-citizen single mother. I had experiences and opinions that I was determined and unafraid to share through my art. When you grow up in a place like D.C., you’re going to see injustice all around you. I used art to navigate the issues that myself and others in my community were experiencing and witnessing. Maybe I was braver in my earlier years but when I think about why I’m passionate about activism and art in the first place I think about how it made my younger self feel. Capable. Creating art amplified my voice as an activist. It gave me purpose and reinforced my beliefs that someone like me could make changes in her community and the world.
C&AL: One of your photographic projects draws from the family archive, and particularly images of your younger self. Can you tell us more about this work?
SP: Experiencing constant nostalgia is one of my many shared millennial characteristics. I started a photography series where I recreated images from my own childhood photo albums. I wanted to capture how much time has passed between my childhood self and the woman I am now. The location background of these images was my hometown of D.C. and the process of going back to the exact locations 20+ years later felt surreal and made me emotional throughout my process. I believe history can tell a lot about the future and the more I reflect on the project I felt I needed to go back to align and comfort my younger self.
Daycare Blues in Adams Morgan (1998 & 2021). Courtesy of the artist.
Experiencing constant nostalgia is one of my many shared millennial characteristics.
C&AL: You mentioned that your performance gives you the space to practice vulnerability openly and connect with the audience. Can you tell us more about a specific performance project that was transformational?
SP: The performance art piece that I’m most proud of involved me in a gallery filled with balloons. This took place at Chela Mitchell Gallery in Washington D.C. in August 2021. It was part of a group show titled I Envy the Wind. Guests were instructed to pick up balloons and bring them to me as I made my way through the space, popping each one. The performance was about facing a childhood fear of mine which happened to be the sound of balloons popping. Loud noises negatively affected me as a child and followed me into adulthood. The reason why I’m proud of this performance was because it was a very vulnerable and intimate experience for myself and the guests who participated. It’s not every day that you get to face your fears in front of an audience. I felt so supported and creative, and that performance is one of those ‘You just had to be there’ moments for me.
C&AL: Are you working on any new projects?
SP: 2023 is a big year for me. I’m in my last year of my Fellowship program with Hamiltonian and I have two very important exhibitions lined up. In a few months I’ll be part of a group exhibit at The Kreeger Museum in Washington D.C. This will be my first time exhibiting my work at a museum! At the end of the year, I will be having a solo show at Hamiltonian. These will be new works and everything I’m working on is for these two shows. I have so many big ideas and it’s about time to start bringing them to life. This year is not only about getting back into creating art but about truly believing in me and pushing myself as a person and becoming the artist I know I want to be.
Raquel Villar-Pérez is an academic, art curator, and writer, interested in post and decolonial discourses within contemporary art and literature from the socio-political Global South. Her research focuses on the work of women artists addressing notions of transnational feminisms, social and environmental justice, and experimental formulas of presenting these in contemporary art.