Making a Statement with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (@tlynnfaz)
By Carolina Gazal (@caro__prints)
Last week, I decided to switch up my routine and take advantage of all the opportunities New York City has to offer. After leaving work, I turned a corner and walked to Apple Fifth Avenue, where only a couple of weeks earlier, thousands of people had lined up to buy the new iPhone. This particular Apple was hosting an Art Lab hosted by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, who is known to create thought provoking murals of women throughout NYC. The Art Labs were a part of the Big Draw Festival, a movement created in collaboration with artists across NYC to support creativity using technology. Excited to use the new Apple pen and get a chance to learn from a powerful female artists, I showed up half an hour early and sat front and center.
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, clad in army-print overalls and a bold red lip, graced us with her presence and explained that her mission was to create a meaningful message with her portraits. She is mostly known for her black and white murals of strong, stern women, gazing at the viewer with the caption, “Stop telling women to smile.” Fazlalizadeh explained that she was tired of the world telling her to smile, especially men, and decided to respond to the patriarchy with an outwardly clear statement. Though she tackles issues like street harassment and femicide, to me, the root of her art came from addressing intersectional feminism and reminding viewers that women from all walks of life are at risk every day.
Her artistic process begins in her sketchbook, a surprise to me considering her larger than life murals. She explained that she prefers to use graphite in her notebook for a sketchy feel. She begins by interviewing women, and asking them what kind of message they want to project to the world. Though her portraits are captivating, the stark message that always accompany them are meant to stop viewers in their tracks, and force them to re-think their ways. Personal favorites of mine included “Do the work to unlearn your sexism” and “America is Black” - statements I think New Yorkers often need to be reminded of. After scanning her portraits from her sketchbook, Fazlalizadeh prints her sketches on photo copy paper, and glues these fragments to walls of buildings where she believes people will notice her statements.
(Photos from Fazlalizadeh’s website)
After getting a brief demo on how to use Procreate and the Apple Pen, we dove into our own portraits. She asked us to think about what kind of message we wanted to portray to our audience, but I honestly couldn’t think of a bold statement for myself on short notice.
After searching through my own camera roll, I landed on a striking picture of my sister during a summer sunset. Though I couldn’t think of a statement for myself, I immediately came up with one for her. I felt that if she were in my position, she would tell people, “Don’t call me exotic.” I think many people feel they can say this to her because they think it’s a compliment, or because of her non-European features, however to her, it fetishizes her being on top of the fact that using the word “exotic” to describe a person is degrading and othering.
After I landed on my statement, the portrait came naturally. I highlighted her thick eyelashes and baby hairs, all the features that people love to call “exotic” and finished it off with my caption. Sharing this with the Apple Lab community was a little scary at first, however after seeing everyone else’s messages and transparency, I felt that we had all opened up and truly shared our messages with each other.
Leaving the Apple Art Lab, I felt inspired to make more art inspired by the powerful women I am lucky to be surrounded by. My mother, my sister, my friends, and community all have powerful messages that I can portray through art, and I plan on making a series about the strong women in my life who have helped shape who I am today.