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!