Jessica Diaz: A Researcher, Multimedia Storyteller, Artist and Writer, is truly it.
Jessica Diaz: a researcher, multimedia storyteller, artist and writer, is truly it.
Born in DC with a Colombian-Salvadoran heritage, she’s one incredibly talented being and one to watch. Her art and work, always close and true to herself, is mostly focused on the immigrant experience, diasporic feminism, race, education and culture. Initially I knew of Jessica as the founder of Necia Media Collective, a critically conscious collective and network for self identified POC/WOC mujeres/womyn and Q/T GNC folks of color in the multimedia field. This past December we linked up through email and agreed to have a video interview since she’s currently stationed in Colombia. Being an absolute rookie in this field I was feeling particularly anxious about carrying out my first live interview but Jessica’s mellow and kind attitude immediately made me feel at ease.
In this interview we discussed her creative process, solidarity and community building, and the western gaze, among other various topics.
How would you describe yourself to the readers?
That’s not a hard question but it’s hard to think about myself like that. I guess as somebody who is ambitious and creative. Somebody who likes to explore and is not a dreamer but has a lot of ideas so I’m always in my head a lot. But I like to create, so (laughs).
You mentioned you’re in Colombia. Can you tell us a little bit of what you’re doing there right now?
Well I first came here to teach English for a little bit. I had just graduated from my masters program. I was studying Latin American studies so I knew I didn’t want to stay in the US and I was also burnt out from school. My family is from Colombia so I came out here but then I realized “well maybe teaching English is corny” so I left that to pursue more creative projects. I started creating this project that I’m working on right now called “Cuenticos en Movimiento” which is an independent bilingual digital project that includes podcasts, videos, photo essays, things that I have been experiencing here in Colombia, that tell different people’s stories. I’ve also been freelancing a little bit, so I’ve been writing for different publications as well.
That’s super awesome! I checked out your website and all the work you’ve done is amazing. You write, you do film, you do photography, and you’ve been a radio co-host. I was just wondering if you have any type of preference for any type of media you prefer using.
Oh definitely! I mean, ever since I was a little kid I used to like doing little movies at home with my sisters (laughs). We would film and video a lot. That’s something super close to my heart. But just recently I started getting more into radio. Since I was like 11 I was in a communication and arts program so I’ve loved all the different types of communications but I really like video. There’s still a lot for me to learn cause I’m not trained in Media Studies or anything like that so it’s a lot of self-learning. I’m also starting to get more into photography. Just kinda teaching myself but also learning different methods and different creative methodologies for that.
You’re also the founder of Necia Media Collective and amongst your members you have all sorts of creatives which is really great because I think solidarity and community building between gender non conforming people and women of color is super important. How did you go about creating this project?
I started doing a documentary series in Brazil about a year and a half ago and I was directing, editing and writing. But as a latina woman it was hard cause I was either getting hit on or undermined a lot and so it was a struggle. That experience really taught me a lot. Now that I’m getting more into the freelancing field there’s a lot of things that I don’t know because I’m not trained in this field and I’m also a woman so there’s a lot of fucked up things that go along with those politics. I started talking to some other friends who are in media as well and they were also telling me similar experiences. We talked about how we would like to have some type of space for women of color to connect in the media field for mentorship, community, and to share knowledge and opportunities with each other. It was me and three other women: Rebecca, Alida, and Jeanette. We kinda started talking about this project and that’s how it came about.
You’re interested in diasporic feminism and your work clearly reflects this. How would you describe your own personal feminism?
That’s hard cause I have a lot of different parts of feminism: from diasporic to third world to hood or ratchet to feminism that I learnt from my family, from my grandmother and my parents. It’s not really taught in a classroom, that’s how I feel like I would describe my feminism: from lived experiences. It’s definitely centered around women of color and their experiences.
I was also looking at your multimedia projects and there was one that I particularly liked. It was the photo essay called “La Fuerza” where you took photos of Colombian mujeres who are all leaders or organizers in their communities. What’s most interesting is the way you’ve photographed them without exotifying them; you’re writing their names, you’re telling us about their work and not in a national geographic way where it’s a photo of some nameless third world country woman. Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind creating this? And I think this is something a lot of people struggle with, even Latin American artists, latinx people, even then it’s hard to not have a western perspective sometimes.
Definitely. I wanted to do it about Colombianas because I’m half Colombian and I’m also a woman and I wanted these photos to show who these women were from their own perspectives. The intent of this project was not photographing for the sake of photographing but because I admire them, I admire the work they’re doing despite the violence and fucked up shit that happens to them and their families. I photographed women who have lost their brothers, husbands and children because of the armed conflict. And yeah they often do get exoticized, or get romanticized mostly, so I wanted to show them from their perspective as organizers, mothers and sisters and daughters who have lost but continue fighting cause they’ve witnessed and have experienced a lot of messed up stuff, especially due to state violence. I wanted to show that aspect of them for me as a woman. Even though I’m born and raised in the US, I grew up with a lot of knowledge about my history so I definitely wanted to portray that, their story, basically, and the influence of their story and them kinda owning and taking hold of their own narrative without somebody else intervening.
I think that’s really cool! Also, in your photography you have a lot of different types of pictures: you have scenery, you have portraits. How do you go about choosing your subjects or capturing moments? Do you set out a day where you’re like “Ok, today I’m gonna take photos” or do you have a theme in mind, how do you go about it?
That’s definitely something that I’ve been learning along the way. I just started doing my photography so in the beginning it was kinda like “Oh I have my camera, I wanna take pictures of interesting things or things that are happening around me” but then as I’ve gone on it’s more like “Ok, today the point is to take photos of things” not only that catch my eye but have life, especially if I wanna take advantage of the fact that I’m here and there’s a lot of different narratives that are untold. I like taking of pictures of people and even though I’ve been learning to approach people, I’ll be like “Hey yo can I take a photo of you, I think either what you’re doing is dope or I really like how this looks or I like what you represent right now in this moment.” I like taking pictures of people but also the things that are around me. I’m open to anything and what I’ve been doing is admiring other people’s art as well cause in order for me to create I need to consume things that inspire me. So, it’s not only the people around me and the things around me but also how people perceive their life around them through the medium that I’m learning.
Another topic I’m interested in is the way a lot of young creatives of color in traditional art circles can sometimes feel pressured to downplay their own identity or the social content they wanna put into their art. But in your art there’s a good balance between art and social content and social message so how were you able to do this. Did you ever feel pressured to censor yourself and if so how did you overcome that?
I’ve naturally always done my art as a way to express myself and a lot of my expressions do denounce social injustices or just tell it how it is. As a woman and a latina who’s always told not to speak up and say what I wanna say, I do sometimes self censor in my mind but I try to challenge myself. In this field and in this country it’s dangerous for journalists or multimedia journalists to be speaking out on social injustices. I had a little bit of trouble tryna accept the risks. That was a challenge that I had to go through when I was doing a story for a radio podcast about a woman who had lost her husband during the armed conflict [Click Here for story]. She was calling out a lot of things and I was trying to pursue this story but I was kinda scared because she was in places and spaces where there’s a lot of paramilitary or people who have hurt her and her community. At first I was like “Dang, this is dangerous.” But what I did was not even comparable to the things that they be going through every day. If I have the resources and the privilege around me to get her story out there, that self-censorship kinda goes away.
2015 has come to an end. Who were the women or non binary artists that caught your eye this year or inspired you somehow? It can be any type of creative.
Obviously I love Frida. It’s not 2015 but her art is ageless. I’ve been looking at a lot of writing. Rupi Kaur, she has a book out, she’s a poet, and I was really inspired by her drawings and her poetry and the rawness of her poetry. I saw y’all did a piece on Cósmica. I love Cósmica. I know some of the women on that group so I really do admire them and the way they present. Their writings and their collaging, that’s also something that I really like…There’s just so many! I also like Kali Uchis cause she’s Colombian and she directs her own shit which is super badass…yeah I love her (laughs). I mean there’s a lot of other photographers that are in my head right now. They do a lot of photography, stuff that’s going on in Central America, specifically in El Salvador cause I’m half Salvadoran and so I really fucks with that. There’s a long list I just don’t really have it right right now (laughs).
Yeah no that’s fine! Those are a lot of good artists you mentioned. This is the final question to wrap it up. What do you have in store for us in 2016?
I feel like 2015 was a year of stopping and looking around and being cause I just moved around a lot so I took this time to leave the US and come and discover and just be and I think I wanna carry that sentiment with me in 2016 and continue obviously doing things but at the same time not losing the moment. But on some real shit I’m gonna go back home and I’m gonna find a job(laughs) and try to honestly pursue media and pursue projects and try to reconnect cause I haven’t lived in the DC area in almost 7 years. I wanna continue using media as a way to create and create community and tell people’s stories through photography, video, radio…I wanna get more into radio. I’m looking into making and collaborating with other folks on any level, especially women of color. I think the more numbers we are the stronger we are so…definitely doing that.