INTERVIEW WITH ZACHARY OCHOA


Trans femme artist from Illinois talks about her masculinization of girl heroes, and her story to gender liberation.




A00

“Where are you from?”


Z.O

“I'm from Aurora, Illinois, it's about an hour west of Chicago.”



A00

"What was childhood like growing up at….?"


Z.O

"Aurora was interesting, it's a very diverse population with a huge Latin population and also a lot of displaced black people from Chicago forced out from gentrification. I was into sports and theatre/choir. I had a lot of family and friends in the drug and gang scene so I was also exposed to a lot of different kinds of lifestyles early on. I always had different friends from different backgrounds and cultures and I really value that."



A00

"Did you start painting at a young age?"


Z.O

"I didn't start painting until my sophomore year of undergrad. I think I was 19 at the time. When I was really little I really liked to draw and doing graffiti with my older brother and cousins."



A00

"What inspired you to practice art?"


Z.O

"My grandmother made costumes and scenery for an all women's theatre group she was in for about 30 years and I always admired her work ethic and big paintings she would make in the driveway. I remember when I got into undergrad she told me she always dreamed of being a fashion designer and how she has dreams of garments. I think about that a lot and I think that really solidified my move to be an artist. It felt like being a creative professional was in my blood."



A00

"Your work really mirrors the diverse cultural experiences you have. Can you tell us a bit about your work?"


Z.O

"As of late I have been really into the ideas of utopias and deconstructing the "hero" tale. In a lot of ways I want to liberate my own identity and personal narrative of being a black trans person through this kind of god-like story of a "GIRL HERO", she's someone I've always wanted to be and someone who I've always been. I think that's where the specific years dated in pieces come into play. As much as I want to create a fake history or falsify the paintings as being sacred, I can only reconstruct the past that I've experienced and refer to the cultural symbology that I've attached to my very specific understandings of gender, race, and liberation, etc. I also want the work to serve to heal other people who feel abused by systemic issues, that's where my fascination with utopias comes forth."



A00

"You often depict women as muscular heroes. Why is that? Does female empowerment plays a role in your work?"


Z.O

"The masculinization of the girl heroes is really a celebration or simply a representation of what being a woman can be like. As a trans femme, there is always this kind of looming feeling of doubt that I am not woman enough for feminine enough. I like having the characters change from being muscular to soft and round, it's actually really important that the character is always fluid and changing. I want to reflect my own ideas of how I view my own body as well as how I believe other people perceive me in these characters."



A00

"You mentioned that your works are linked to the notion of "femme utopia and revenge”. Can you explain?"


Z.O

"I became really fascinated with utopias and kind of this theoretical idea that women's liberation is something that is real and exists in the future. I often try to think about GIRL HERO as the hero who kind of goes on this journey to discover what femme people need to be liberated or is the first person to travel in time and learn of such a place and is coming back to the present time to tell us about it. Revenge is important because it's what creates the difference between GIRL HERO versus other hero tales, because of her appearance and her domination she will most likely be perceived as evil. She is very aware of this perception and plays into it. She hopes that the people who have harmed her and others alike fear her because she is not looking to redeem or prove herself, she is enacting revenge and ultimate protection."



A00

"Gender has become a very fluid concept over the past few decades. What sort of role does art play in the phenomena?"


Z.O

"I think art has shown us how restrictive and silly our ideas of gender are. When we see paintings of like sonic with a huge dick I think we subconsciously are pushing people to see gender and genitals and sexuality as different things. The fluidity of gender in art I think can be directly accredited to queer artists being platformed a lot more even in the last 30 years or so."



A00

"Some of your work also has this retro feel with a cartoony twist. What's the story?"


Z.O

"I have been watching Disney movies since I was a kid and I think that's where a lot of styles are stolen from. I also have been trying to outrun my love for Matisse since I had my first art history class but I think there's something about that mix of styles that is really funny to me. I think my work can be seen as nostalgic but it's hard for me to see it that way. I am honestly just pulling all of these different standards of media entertainment and cultural symbols that signify very specific understandings of gender, race, and class. I try to use the most cliché, generic, and accessible symbols of my immediate environment."



A00

Now, about your making process, do you have any daily rituals or routines you do before work?


Z.O

I wake up every day around 630am. I head to Starbucks or Dunkin donuts and grab some coffee. I usually smoke 1-2 joints when I get home and immediately start painting or getting studio work done. I try to work until I'm bored or feel fatigued. Video games are really important for when I feel bored of panting, I play a few games in breaks and it helps me remain energized!



A00

What sort of games are you into?


Z.O

I play a lot of Nintendo Switch, Super smash bros (mains: young link, Samus, Lucina), I love the breath of the wild and recently I have been obsessed with Rocket League!



A00

What's your studio like?


Z.O

My studio is a spare bedroom in my apartment that I share with a roommate. It's probably about a 6ft by 4ft space. It's very small and messy. I try to clean it often but I have a bad tendency of being very careless with my materials. I have an old wooden chair, an easel I inherited from a girl I was seeing last summer, and a side table filled with my airbrush stuff.



A00

Do you listen to music while you work?


Z.O

I listen to music a lot when I work but it's often the same thing though, Joanna Newsom, Liz Phair, and Bladee or pretty constant. I also like to watch rom coms and listen to true-crime podcasts.



A00

You’re one of the many artists living through the Covid pandemic. Would you say that many have changed? For the better or worse?


Z.O

I think we have all been forced to change and mutate ourselves during the pandemic. I think artists have the decision to see restrictions as good or bad though. I feel like I personally used the pandemic to my advantage but I think I was also privileged in a lot of ways.



A00

If you could travel back in time, what era would you visit?


Z.O

I would love to go back to the expressionist era but like Der Blaue Reiter era. I would have loved to make Gabriele Munter rip-offs and paint landscapes in peace.
 
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