Interview with Zeinab Diomande (aka Z The Rat) for ‘Perspectives’ | Exhibition on view October 1 – October 22, 2022

Thinkspace is pleased to present artist Zeinab Diomande (aka Z the Rat) showing new works in group exhibition “Perspectives.”

The artist explores the theme of mental health and her experience as a black woman. These themes mark out and feed her warm and colorful world. Adapting what already exists and reinventing it in a way that also shapes a new reality is the main focus of this expression.

Our interview with Zeinab Diomande reflects on the unease felt in calm spaces, dives into the exploration of mediums, and provides a few jazz recommendations.

You’ve shared that your paintings are a love letter to your child-self. What was your childhood like? Would you be comfortable sharing a core memory and the feeling it produced that inspires your work? 

My childhood was semi-regular. I feel like I was a child who was way too aware of what was going on around her. I had a critical approach to life and was very aware that it wasn’t perfect. Life at home taught me that. Despite this, I feel like I still got to be a child in a lot of ways beyond being physically one. A core memory would be playing dress up by myself in my room that I shared with my siblings. The idea of escaping and creating little universes for myself has always been on brand for me. 

I could reinvent my reality by dressing up, making up stories, and be wherever I wanted. This is one of my favorite parts of my childhood having that endless imagination. 

In the last show you had with us, you were exploring the idea of peace within chaos. Do you find yourself unsettled in non-chaotic spaces?

This is probably one of the deepest questions I have ever been asked; I do find myself unsettled in non-chaotic spaces. For instance, I had a conversation a while back about not wanting to move to the countryside. It’s peaceful and quiet, and I grew up in a big city with a lot of noises. I always think about the way I grew up; it’s always been noisy and loud. Moving into my first apartment was pretty hard since there was peace and this can be a hard feeling to navigate when you aren’t used to it. It’s easier to keep the pattern of the things you are used to going than adapting to something completely new. I’m getting better at navigating non-chaotic spaces but still somewhat feel unsettled. 

What drew you to using multiple mediums within your work; acrylics, color pencils, oil pastels, etc? Did you have a period where you tried to stick to one medium? 

I’ve always thought about the complexity of my pieces being tied to my use of multiple mediums. I see endless possibilities in using multiple mediums as well as modes of explorations, different textures having different feelings attached to them. I did try to stick to one medium (oil pastel) at one point, but I quickly realized that it made more sense for me and my practice to keep the idea of exploration going by including a variety of mediums in my work. I like to see my work as a continuing process, so using a wide range of mediums is what makes more sense to me. 

“Perspective” is a group exhibition along with three other talented artists. Could you share an element of your fellow exhibitors’ work that inspires, challenges, or intrigues you? 

I wanna start with Chigozie’s work. I am beyond fascinated by the way she uses oil to create all these beautiful textures. It is something to strive for. Ayobola’s use of mixed media is out of this world. It has a unique interplay between figure and texture that I really admire. Bianca’s use of colors and ink is fascinating and complex! 

Do you have a habit or routine that helps you balance your artistic process, student life, and general hustle? 

Music is something that gets me into the zone that I want to be in. I have a very clear system when it comes to the things I listen to; I generally have three songs that I always come back to when I’m starting a work. these songs are ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ by the Velvet Underground, ‘Ba da da’ by Gray, and ‘sirladymakemfall’ by liv.e. It’s interesting how these songs always come back for every single piece I’ve ever made. they help me stay focused and help me when I’m blocked or at a certain stage in the painting.

Who are a few of your favorite Jazz musicians? Do you have a song recommendation we must listen to? 

John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dahlak Band and Hailu Mergia, Mulatu Atzaske. ‘Anchin Kfu Ayinkash’ by Dahlak band and ‘Hailu Mergia’ and ‘Salt Peanuts’ by Dizzy and Charlie are some favorites of mine.

You’ve been navigating your last year of college in 2022. Have you had your thesis exhibition yet? How was finishing this chapter (or process of finishing)? 

I have not finished yet! I am in the process of brainstorming for my exhibition. it is definitely hard to navigate being both a full-time artist and a full-time student, so balancing the two responsibilities is something that I have to do.

Could you give us three facts or anecdotes about your home country/home city that you wish more people knew about? 

  1. the food!! I would recommend trying as soon as you get there is attieke and alloco which are basically mashed cassava and sweet plantain. they are generally accompanied by fish or chicken.
  2. going to the beach is something I really enjoy about my home. the water is clearer than anywhere I’ve ever seen; it’s incredible to see.
  3. visiting other cities besides Abidjan is very interesting. I’ve been to a place called man (pronounced like maw kind of or much), which is a place with mountains and waterfalls. it is insanely beautiful and is one of the only cool places that I’ve been to in côte d’ivoire. 

If you could have any skill downloaded into your brain, what would it be and why? 

Music skills would be fun to just immediately have. I love music but don’t know much about playing it.

If you could have a dinner party with 5 people, dead or alive, who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your icebreaker question?

Basquiat for sure. John Coltrane. my friend Kwamé, Kurt Cobain, and my grandpa. My icebreaker question is “how did we all get here?” 

Interview with Z the Rat ( aka Zeinab Diomande) for ‘U’ve Seen It… U Can’t Unsee It’ | Exhibition on view January 8 – January 29 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present a collection of works from artist Z the Rat (aka Zeinab Diomande), who through her work explores the theme of mental health and her experience as a black woman.

Her exhibition ‘U’ve seen it… U can’t Unsee It’ expresses the intersection between what one longs for and the struggles they have to face. The artist describes these paintings as “love letters to my child-self”. Her relatively simple, yet simultaneously complex, compositions use of bright colors give a sense of warmth and safety that at times can still feel heavy. Contrasting the pensive characters, all of these opposing forces and their conflicting nature are a byproduct of one’s desire to create safety out of chaos.

In our interview with Z the Rat she shares with us where she finds inspiration, advice she’d give her past self, and a peek into her artistic practice.  

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing and where you are currently creating?

I originally come from the Ivory Coast, though I was born here in Virginia! My parents moved back to the Ivory Coast when I was 4 months old so being back here in the U.S still feels very new but still a very fun journey! I am currently based in Philadelphia where I go to college and have my studio. 

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work, lately?

The inspiration for this body of work was a reflection on the conflicting nature of some themes I was exploring such as the idea of peace within chaos. Most of these paintings are love letters to my child-self. The environment my characters are in are generally very bright and colorful which feels warm, safe, and inviting. On the other hand, the characters are very pensive. Other times the paintings are a lot more chaotic and more cluttered. I am definitely reflecting on what my child-self would’ve liked for herself, the type of environment she was longing for as opposed to what was around at the time. 

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio? 

My studio days are very simple. I generally like to have my jazz playlist in the background and my cat around. I don’t really sketch so I just have an idea in mind, my notebook handy with my notes and once I have the figure fully painted I just work around it. It’s the core of the painting, if it’s not good, the whole painting is ruined in advance.

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands that you use? 

My toolbox has a lot of leftover paint, palettes that I need to clean, lots of oil pastel, color pencils and paper scraps. I like the idea of repurposing materials so I hoard a little. I use a lot of acrylic, I am not very specific on the brand mostly student grade “Blick” brand. When it comes to oil pastel though, I am very particular about the brand I like bright colors so I make sure I get the ones with the most pigment.

How do you like to unwind outside of the studio? 

On days where I am not in the studio being a hermit, I like to get together with my friends, chef it up, go to the park or just chill with my cat. 

Do you have a process for sourcing and/or keeping track of your inspiration? 

Whenever I feel like I need to be very inspired, I like to watch documentaries. There’s one specific video that I always go to when I need an extra boost and it’s the Tate’s video of Njideka Akunyili-Crosby. There is something about the way she talks about her process and experience that really feels motivating, endearing and encouraging. It works all the time. 

Most artists express themselves creatively as a child, but there is a moment when a shift occurs from just being creatively inclined to being more artistically minded – do you know when that moment was for you?

 I think being creative and being artistic go hand in hand when you are an artist. The skills you have built over the years whether it be painting, drawing etc are deeply connected to your creative approach. Creativity is your ability to problem solve, figure out ways to use the technical skills that you have to stand out. I don’t think there’s a point in time where they stop working together. When I realized this I was 16 and it’s still something I hold on to now. 

Have you ever worked outside creating public murals? If not, would you be interested in pursuing one day? 

I have never worked on a mural before or any public art but this is definitely something I would like to do in the future! 

What words of wisdom would you share with your past self when you were just starting to create art? Is there anything in your artistic journey that you wish you may have done differently? 

If there’s anything I would like to say to my past self is don’t rush, longevity over instant gratification. If you fly too fast, you’ll burn your wings. Keep on practicing, that drive that you have is all you need. Rejection is redirection, if the shoe doesn’t fit, there’s your size elsewhere! 

Anything in my artistic journey that I wish I’d done different is definitely taking breaks when necessary. I realized that  listening to your body and prioritizing your health whether it be physical or mental is crucial. Work can wait. I wish I learned that a little sooner.  

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

I think my biggest challenge in 2020 was how distant the art community felt. Since everything moved online it felt a little odd at first and as much as I enjoy online exhibitions there is something about seeing art in person that cannot be replicated virtually. 

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

I think it was my first gallery exhibition in my home country at the LouiSimone Guirandou Gallery. It was very emotional to have my mom, my siblings and everyone who saw me in my very first steps. The show went beyond my expectations and It just reminded me that if it weren’t for all of these people’s I wouldn’t be where I am today. Taking a step back to think about this helps me stay centered and grounded. My mom has many more shows to witness and we’ll make it happen! 

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022?

I will be starting my last year of college, so definitely my thesis exhibition and a couple of art fairs that I have coming up!