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ZAZA: Expanding the Walls Alumni Artist Collective

Sapphire Hilton

Sapphire Hilton: Can you explain the inspiration behind the name ZAZA?

Angelica Calderon: The name ZAZA comes from my and Zainab’s first initials, repeated. We discovered that the name ZAZA is a biblical name, meaning “movement,” “light,” and “belonging to all.” We came to the conclusion that the name is perfect for our platform, as movement and light is so necessary in our own work, and that of the Black Caribbean women artists we are inspired by. These meanings seemed soo resonating.

Zainab Floyd: We were in my dorm as we sifted through ideas and came up with ZAZA. We intended to create an artist collective that is intentional with archiving, recording, and researching Black Caribbean women artists whose work surveys, critiques, and analyzes the same themes that we are interested in investigating. We are interested in exploring themes of Black womanhood, displacement, sexuality/romance, and anti-Blackness within the Caribbean, particularly on Hispaniola. We wanted to explore these themes through photo, video and film, writing, and other interdisciplinary practices. We both share similar experiences as Black Caribbean women in academic spaces who have lacked exposure to Black Caribbean women artists. We imagined a space of belonging that is very Black but interrogates and investigates a traumatic history that is still affected by colonialism.

SH: What is ZAZA’s role as an artist collective in the local community and the world at large?

ZAZA: Our role as a collective is in continuing the importance of archiving, educating, providing resources, updating the history of hidden narratives, and sharing the stories of these artists, hopefully, to inspire, motivate, and bring personal research for anyone interested in these narratives and art.

SH: What’s integral to the work of an artist collective, and specifically ZAZA?

ZAZA: Communication and collaboration are integral to the work of an artist collective. Specifically for ZAZA, we have known each other for five years and remained in contact since participating in Expanding the Walls at the Studio Museum. We have a foundation of love, vulnerability, and respect. We genuinely want to see each other succeed in our personal lives, and ZAZA is a celebration of the very things that we want to highlight, investigate, and research.

SH: What does artist engagement look like for your collective? How are you engaging members?

ZAZA: Much of our artist engagement takes place online, specifically on Instagram (@zaza_uptown). In the near future, we intend to have a physical space where our community can meet and have a discourse about the Caribbean diaspora.

SH: What memorable responses have you seen?

AC: Some women artists we wrote about on ZAZA have reached out to us in support of our platform. We’re invested in making happy about ZAZA being created, how necessary it is to continue our narratives, and how much it makes us happy to speak about Black Caribbean women artists who inspire and help us through challenges of our lives as artists, Black women, and college students.

ZF: The support that we have received from practicing women artists has most definitely pushed us to continue the work that we do. Even the responses from the folks who stop by to say, “I see what you’re doing. I am learning a lot,” is something that pushes us to continue our research. Pretty much everything, Angelica said.

We have a foundation of love, vulnerability, and respect. We genuinely want to see each other succeed in our personal lives, and ZAZA is a celebration of the very things that we want to highlight, investigate, and research.

SH: Are there any other artist collectives that inspired you?

AC: Platforms such as SUNU Journal (@sunujournal ), Niijournal (@niijournal ), the Afro Latin Diaspora (@theafrolatindisapora), to name a few.

ZF: The artist collectives that have inspired us are “Where We At” Black Women Artists Inc., Spiral, Art Hoe Collective, and the Black Artists Union. We wanted to create an artist collective that at least nudges in the right direction to get folks, including ourselves, to think about larger themes within the Caribbean diaspora, but that also continues to survey art.

SH: What does the future of ZAZA look like?

ZAZA: We are working to bring ZAZA out of the digital space and hold events, possibly conversations, and build a community of Black Caribbean women creatives in the Bronx and beyond. We hope to turn these events into something bigger, such as a panel of Black Caribbean women, workshops, and exhibitions. We are also working on our zine, which is exciting!

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