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The Artist Diary: Zilmarc Paulino (Photographer, Brazil)

“In many ways that is what i’m still trying to do when it comes to photography, because i feel that by gazing at your own image you can figure out so much, create so much, find and loose yourself at the same time, literally invent new versions of yourself, again and again” Zilmarc Paulino.

Text and Images by Zilmarc Paulino

Zilmarc Paulino is a non-binary mixed-media artist from Paraíba (Brazil) working as an art and photography director, photographer, videomaker, set and image designer, stylist, performer, producer and art educator.

Multiplicity of themes and artistic interests through image and performance As a member of the artistic collectives CASA DA BAIXA COSTURA, GeraNua and 3001 researching visions related to individuality, social, political, spiritual and personal issues. We wanted to get to know about the young creative and share a personal text of herself, original and uncut. 

     “When NSNS invited me to do a piece for them, specifically a piece about the place where I am from and to write a little about it, a million thoughts went through my head and I was paralyzed for a moment. Turns out it’s not that easy to talk about a place that exists, both, in reality and in my head. I was born and raised in a little 16 thousand habitants’-town called Sumé (in the state of Paraíba) in the interior of northeastern Brazil. Being brought up in here was a big mix of hating the place, being tangled in a narrow-minded existence, that seamed impossible to scape from, and, loving the opportunity that the solitude of my childhood gave me to create my own worlds from an early age. Thus contributing to my artistic self that would later come up.

     Long story short, I realized from a young age that I didn’t feel comfortable about what was expected from a boy. I was always very feminine, very fragile and delicate, opposing to the macho man culture that reigns here. This being a specific region of Brazil where sexist social values are basically taught to everybody since the first years of life. I could say that I’ve always struggled with the cultural homophobic/transphobic behaviors around me. So basically I curled myself up into a shell inside my mind and the only gateway to freedom I had in those years were playing in the woods and playing in my bedroom. As a small town queer kid I was always in contact with nature, used to spend long periods of time alone wandering thru, swimming in the weir of my family’s farm, playing with little animals, even taking horse rides.  Other times I would be locked inside my bedroom listening to pop music and mimicking the performances, inventing outfits out of blankets, secretly wearing my mother’s shoes and accessories.

  

     I can’t say I had a rough childhood, because my parents are the best. I had my sister and cousins to play with, but being different from everyone else it became really lonely really fast. I didn’t had any other queer friends, I couldn’t really connect with the straight kids, I felt mocked by them for my femme personality and was basically the “creative shy kid” persona for a long time. Being creative was the only thing I was really good at and art was the only way I could express myself without feeling bad for being me. As a child I was consistently exposed to music as my father’s family was always very musical, my grandfather being an extraordinary multi-musician, so I was influenced by music since the begging. But I was encouraged to take the visual arts as form of expression, I  could draw and paint so it was a natural process to also be interested in photography, video and performance.

      With the support of my parents, I left my hometown at 17 to go to art college and it was a fantastic experience, first for finally being able for the first time in my life to have LGBTQI+ friends, meaning i got to connect with people with similar life experiences and also because only by leaving my hometown i could genuinely be free to express myself without worries of what other people could say or do. It was in this time period that i began creating portraits, always having my friends as main subjects, my drive was to explore those identities that inspired me so much, they made me curious of what was hidden inside of them, and throughout photography I was trying to expand those characters to their max. I wanted to give them a opportunity to feel beautiful, to feel empowered, to scape from beauty standards and to have their images transformed into art as they are. In many ways that is what i’m still trying to do when it comes to photography, because i feel that by gazing at your own image you can figure out so much, create so much, find and loose yourself at the same time, literally invent new versions of yourself, again and again.

    Though it’s complicated and very dangerous to live in a world revolving around image, there’s not much of a choice when you’re a independent artist in need of a platform to present your work, social media is the best we’ve got, unfortunately, it comes with the highest cost that is our mental health, we’re repeatedly told through image that we should have a certain kind of style, a certain kind of body, a certain kind of life and this messes so much with our self-esteem. It’s so hard to decolonize our minds from all the content, it is especially hard, as an artist, not to compare ourselves with other people’s lives, after all that is our place of social intersection and the place we use to spread our work, so things get mixed up pretty quick. Still i firmly believe that through image we can create strong bonds with ourselves, making it a on going process of self care, self knowledge and self discovery. This artistic process gave me so much perspective about myself in my college years, and was throughout it, thought self-portrait, thought interacting with and shooting other trans people that i found my identity as a non-binary person. I could have had a completely different experience, with much more stress and pain involved if i hadn’t been were i was with my friends, doing what i love to do.

“Social media is the best we’ve got, unfortunately, it comes with the highest cost that is our mental health, we’re repeatedly told through image that we should have a certain kind of style, a certain kind of body, a certain kind of life and this messes so much with our self-esteem. “ – can you explain that thoughts further what high costs comes for you with social media?

     Having finished college i became really inquiet and curious to get to know other realities, and as many of artists from the northeastern region do, i ran away to São Paulo (southeastern Brazil) looking for better opportunities in the art industry. Of course i’ve experienced (still do) some rough situations, not only related to financial stability but most of all because there is a historic xenophobia and prejudice with north-easterners here which makes it difficult to burst the artistic bubbles of the big city. Currently i’m very privileged to be able to be living back and forth (from Paraíba to SP) trying to continue to work doing what gives me the biggest pleasure that is to collaborate with other creative minds, contributing to the enrichment of the LGBTQI+ culture, and beyond that, to the enrichment of our lives as humans. 

    

      Unfortunately we’re living some really crazy times in Brazil, even though things where always hard for the majority of people, I didn’t imagined that a facist government would rise to power and give platform for so much hatred to be spread. Right now it feels like we’re all in a constant battle to survive, to scape from the army of bigots that this society has proven itself to be. The good thing is that because of all the hate, all the corruption and shit that its happening here and all around the world, more and more creative and political minds are putting their best efforts on changing things. Never in my life have i seen so much light being cast upon LGBTQI+ experiences, as well as female, black and indigenous experiences, the amount of awareness that is being raised is overwhelming, is beautiful and it definitely sparkles hope for the future.

      In the beginning I’ve said that it was a little hard for me to talk about the place were i’m from and that’s because i never felt like I belonged to a specific place, not only in Brazil but in the world. I’m consistently trying to collect pieces of reality and rearrange them to suit my fantasies. For this series curated especially for NSNS, I gathered images created throughout 2020. (Description of the pictures) In a year filled with despair, chaos and death, i was torn in the madness of it all trying to survive unemployment, the corona virus, a facist government and my personal mental health issues. It was hard to find safety to create, but luckily i got to spend long periods of time alone at home and in nature. So here you’ll see a tiny fraction of my connection to my reality in various forms. These are pictures that were taken in performative moments in the middle of the Atlantic jungle in São Paulo as well as in the middle of the deserted lands of Paraíba. The last one is a portrait of one of the most important woman in my life, my grandmother Juraci, mother of my mother, a woman full of wisdom and responsible for teaching me to treat nature with respect, and most of all to learn its mysteries and in those ones I’ve found a peaceful shelter to my restless mind.

      I’d like to thank NSNS for the opportunity and the platform to portray a little piece of the world that i am as an artist and human. I’d like to thank all my beautiful friends who posed for me throughout the past years.  I would also like to thank my beautiful talented boyfriend Pablo Neves (who’s a fantastic dancer) and my also talented friends Amaré Yndio do Brasil (who’s a great actor) and Mexo (who’s a  otherworldly musician). Thank you for helping me capture these images, i love and cherish you very much.”

“The number of deaths by Covid-19 in Brasil reached 580.000 by the end of August. The government keeps using it is genocide politics to supress protests, we need to be seen by the rest of the world, we need help.” – Zilmar Paulino