Tatyana Fazlalizadeh came to stay at Casa Joshua Tree in August 2016 as the very first Creative In Residence. She is a painter and activist who is "taking the stories and faces of women and people of color to the streets to force their lives onto public conversation and consideration." Her project Stop Telling Women to Smile is an on-going art series that addresses gender-based street harassment. She recently completed a cross-country tour installing art along the way, called When Women Disrupt.
We checked in, almost a year later, ahead of the When Women Disrupt tour and I asked her about the time she spent in Joshua Tree and what it was like to be a woman of color in a mostly white, small, rural town during the residency.
"I didn't really feel uncomfortable, just seen, if that makes sense. It's like the quote from Zora Neale Hurston: "I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background." Experiencing race as a black person, for me, is a feeling of being hyper visible as well as invisible. While I was in Joshua Tree, I began to really wonder about when white people ever consider or think about race and how they are a part of its workings. If ever. Because I think about it all the time."
But in addition to how I, as a black person, experience race in a place like JT, I was curious about how white people experience race there. Is it only something that is visible when a person of color walks into the room? Why isn't it a conversation when only white people are there? Why isn't whiteness itself a race problem? Why do white folk get to just be people, unmarked by race? An invisible norm. When I step outside of my experiences with race, I find it really fascinating. This is all stuff I was thinking about then and is what inspired those little white on white paintings I did. And also inspired the work that I'm putting up on this tour and the route we are taking.
So thanks for the space to breathe and think and get inspired."
A year ago, I had the pleasure and honor of sitting down with Tatyana to discuss her time at Casa Joshua Tree on the last day of her stay in August 2016. We chatted about the desert, re-centering yourself, and not being afraid to experiment with your work. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Lindsay Hollinger: So you sat outside a lot?
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: yeah I did! I sat at the table outside a lot, because it’s so quiet out there. Especially in the morning, and at night too. I did a lot of sitting and thinking, and talking out loud to myself. And, writing. And I went to High View Natural Trail.
LH: yeah! That’s a good one, because you get a little sweat going!
TF: Yeah, and the view is amazing. I went there twice. So the second time I went, I went during sunset, which was really beautiful. I was just sitting out there, it was just like, I don’t know…I was trying to re-center myself. Because you know I’ve been doing so much, it was good to just sit down, to think, and to figure out what I really want. What I really like, what my goals are, plan that stuff out, write it down, think about it, so I know what I’m doing. Sometimes I’m just moving around so much, I don’t know what I’m doing. So, it’s good to refocus myself.
LH: What were your impressions of the desert in general? You’ve never been out here before, right? Did it match up with what you thought it was going to be like? Was it different?
LH: You did?!?
TF: it was really, really cool. There’s more out here to do than I thought. I thought the Desert was just, “the desert.” I didn’t realize actually there’s people and stuff to do! But there is also the isolated desert... So I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the heat…the dryness of it. It’s so different from New York, just humid and gross. This heat is a nice, dry heat. I really liked that. It’s also just beautiful, it’s gorgeous, and as a visual artist I get really inspired by that. I love that you can see miles and miles away.
LH: right? the openness of it. Even though, I guess it’s a semi-hostile environment, it’s so beautiful and there’s so much space and time. Unlike growing up on the East coast, everything feels very close and intimate, whereas here it feels very vast and grand.
TF: yeah, absolutely.
LH: Loneliness sort of takes a different form out here, than it does on the east coast. Um, it’s weird, so strange.
TF: Yeah. I was thinking about that too, the loneliness of it. It’s like, I was out here, I was alone. And when I’m in New York, sometimes I can get lonely because it’s like you’re by yourself, even though you’re amongst a sea of people, you still feel like you’re by yourself. But here, being alone, and like actually being alone, really separated from people, like when I was doing the hike, I was there by myself and there was no one around. It’s very different, being amongst people and being alone and feeling lonely and being amongst nature and feeling alone. Because even though this is a city, it is situated within nature, … this is the earth. A vast expanse of earth!
LH: Yeah, a vast unpopulated area.
TF: So it was like, a totally different mindset. Like, I didn’t feel lonely. It was just a different type of being alone.
LH: yeah, that sounds like a really accurate portrayal of it. It’s jus a different kind of alone-ness and to me, it always feel a bit lighter. Because I feel my place in the universe in a small way, because these rocks have been here millions of years before me and they’ll be here millions of years after me, and they’re like “oh, little human, you’re just doing your thing, you’re cool, just drink some water, you’re fine!” <<laughing>>
TF: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why it was so good to be here, away from New York, where it’s just overwhelming, so many things all the time. The noise, the people, the work, the grind of New York. To step back away from that, to observe these mountains that have been here forever … and really get some perspective on what’s important, outside of work, you know? That was good for me to do, to re-center myself, and really think about the things that I want. Now I feel like I’m leaving here with a clearer head, and able to attack things better, because I had the time to step away from everything, and really look at something else for a change, which was myself. And my thoughts, and this earth, this ground. It was good.
LH: From your perspective, you know, you’ve got this large famous project that you’re doing, How has it been moving forward in your work, because you probably want to do some other stuff, yeah? But that’s what you’ve become known for. Does that feel freeing, or restricting? What are your feelings surrounding it?
TF: It feels a little restricting, and it feels I think like I’ve kind of stifled myself... I was reading that book you have back there, The Creative Habit ...oh it’s so good, I’m going to order it when I get back.
LH: oooh yeah, Twyla Tharp. She’s the one who really talks about Rest as being part of the work. Giving yourself the space. And to me that was, like…a revelation. I don’t need to feel guilty to take a couple hours to not have to be like…work work work work.
TF: absolutely, yeah, because I have to figure out what’s important for me. And I think Stop Telling Women to Smile, that project getting so big, I did, for a time, feel like I could only work on that. And then I shifted thoughts and I was like “ok no now I have to create something even bigger and better.” And that was just like….
LH: that’s scary
TF: right? it was terrifying. I was like, "I don’t know what that is, or how to do it, so I’m just not gonna do anything.” And then I was taking on freelance projects and doing things to distract myself from creating something amazing again, or from working on STWTS, because I don’t want that to be the only thing I’m doing, you know? So for this past year, I’ve been doing a lot. It’s been commissions and all this other stuff. Stuff that I’m into, but stuff that’s also kind of distraction for me. So, This week was really about, “Okay, I can be afraid of working on whatever this next project is, just to create work, even if it isn’t as good, or as popular as the past work.” And I also can’t be afraid of really continuing to push STWTS. So I’ve decided this week on how to move forward with that project, and how to also move forward with other work at the same time.”
LH: Yeah that’s awesome, that’s really great.
TF: yeah! yeah, ‘cause I was really like, “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to hide away and just not do anything”
LH: Yeah, I know that feeling. It’s also, I think, when you have some measure of success in any thing you do, whether it’s art or music, or anything. You feel so grateful, or at least I feel so grateful for that success, that it’s like, if at any time I turn away from that, I’m feeling like the other shoe is gonna fall. Like I’ve had my finite amount of success I can have, and if I turn away from it, from this one thing...It’s like it’s part of this sort of creative myth that we have about, that there’s just a finite amount [of success], and you have to get it. I’m trying to change my mindset about it, that there is enough to go around. But it’s really a terrifying feeling.
TF: It is, it is.
LH: specially when it brings so much opportunity, or money, or whatever it could possibly be. It’s like, “if I stop doing this, then what will I do?” <laughing>
TF: Yeah, right, “what will I do? What if the next thing that I do isn’t as good?”
LH: Right! What if it fails?
LH: Yeah, I have to be willing to make shitty work…//…it’s very frustrating, it’s really hard for me to just experiment, and to not have a vision of how it’s going to end up, and be okay that whatever experiment I do… Because like, in the commercial art world, it’s all about efficiency, and now it’s like, “oh I have to just screw around, and do some ugly stuff” <laughs>
TF: Yeah I’m the same way, I’m a painter but I was trained as an illustrator and I’m very just like <snaps fingers>
LH: yeah, "how fast can I do this?"
TF: Yes. How fast can I do it, I need to do it and get it done, I don’t need to do a whole bunch of stuff experimenting and painting for self expression. You know, I need to like, done. <laughing>
LH: Yeah its such a mindset, being like, “This is not wasted time”
LH: I’m glad you had the week, some quiet time without distraction.
TF: It was great. Yeah, to not have those distractions.
LH: would you have done anything differently? Did you have any kind of structure for yourself?
TF: um, I was waking up fairly early…
LH: it gets light reaaal early here… <laughing>
TF: yeah, I was waking up at like 6 or 7, and then stretching, have a little breakfast, I would eat out there [on back porch], have some iced coffee in the morning… //…and then I kinda planned each day, I knew I wanted to do something each day off of your list, so I would plan around that. //
I did a little bit of sketching, a little bit of drawing, a couple of small paintings that are studies for a project I’m thinking about. I did a lot of writing on my computer…asking myself questions, really trying to interrogate myself on what it is that I want, what’s happening to move forward. And then I spent a lot of time sitting, and being quiet, I would sit out there [on back porch]. //
TF: At night, I was looking at the stars, which were…
LH: bananas, right?? It’s like, “hey, milky way! what’s up?”
TF: right! I had to download a stargazing app so I could figure out what I was looking at. Looking at all the constellations… it was incredible.
This conversation has been slightly condensed and edited.
photos by Lindsay Hollinger