Samera Paz is breaking boundaries in each and every way. From creating art out of menstrual blood to founding an organization for female empowerment, Paz has shown how young individuals can make a difference on both a local and global level. The 22-year-old activist sat down with Affinity to give insight into how she is using art to create social change.
What influenced you to pursue a career as a photographer?
In high school I suffered from depression, anxiety, and I had suicidal tendencies. I felt very alone and isolated from the world, but I had this strong need to express myself and create. That led me to the art of photography. The minute I picked up a camera, I felt like I had a purpose in this world. I found something that I really loved. I promised my 16-year-old self that photography was going to be the career path I would pursue and succeed in.
Can you describe your favorite photo series?
It’s between Abuela’s House and Becoming Girl. These are series that I’ve been working on for years now and there’s still so many stories I can tell through them. Abuela’s House are mostly self portraits taken over a few months in my grandmother’s house. The series is focused on emotion, pain, heartbreak, and the environment I’m in. Becoming Girl are photographs of young girls that I encounter throughout my life and how I watch them grow into young women. These are girls my life has an impact on and to document them and see their growth means a lot to me.
What are some recurring themes or concepts in your photography?
My art in general is based on emotions and storytelling. I can be very fearless and unapologetic when I’m showing the world my perspective. My work is about capturing emotion and making people feel something when they view my work. A lot of my subjects are girls and women. They’re multidimensional and complex beings. It’s pretty fascinating to be an observer of their experiences.
Why did you chose to found the DC-based Young Women’s Girl Power Meetups?
There was a lack of community amongst young women in DC. I founded the organization with the goal to create a real-life safe space where girls can create, be open, and find support in one another. It’s been one of my life’s greatest accomplishments!
What was the process of founding Girl Power Meetups?
The process of bringing Girl Power Meetups to life happened in a short amount of time because there was so much excitement and need for a movement like this. There was a lot of support from the beginning and social media really helped with spreading the word locally.
What led you to pursue advocacy work?
In high school I was part of an after school program that taught me how to use photography to make social change in my community. My interest in social advocacy work began there, as well as my interest in photojournalism. It felt really good to be working on issues that would benefit the community and schools. My love for social justice and everything I learned through that program has been with me since.
Can you describe the connection between your photography and your activism?
The connection has to be storytelling, documenting the truth and being emotionally involved. In photography, I’m documenting moments and my personal experiences. I’m passionate about issues that affect women, people of color, and my community. These are topics that show up within my art as well.
How do you hope to create change, on both a local and worldwide scale?
I dream of becoming a war photographer. It’s a terrifying and dangerous career path to pursue, but someone has to do it. Through my photography, I hope to create change and show the world the truth. I want to tell the stories of the unheard and document how war affects not only the people directly involved, but how these violent acts affect women and children. Locally, I want to create change by being someone the people around me and my community can count on. I want to provide safe communities, like Girl Power Meetups, to people who need them.
Can you give us some insight into your upcoming black empowerment movement, Chocolate MLK?
Chocolate MLK is a movement to celebrate and educate people on black history and the amazing things that have come from our culture. The name and inspiration of this movement came from watching a documentary on Martin Luther King Jr. and how he used peace and strength even in the worst of times. This movement is also going to have an emphasis on the history of Washington DC and how we can preserve the place we call home for the future. Gentrification is destroying our city and I think getting people into one space and learning from one another will be a great way to start creating positive change.
What inspired you to create artwork out of menstrual blood?
The first time I used period blood as an art medium was when I was 16-years-old. I kept the idea in mind for many years and about a year or so ago, the idea resurfaced. I felt like I could really create interesting work with it. It started out with just focusing on creating abstract art, but it later turned into a feminist statement and social experiment.
How did you cope with criticism and backlash for doing so?
When I first published my period art online a year ago, I was met with so much hate and negativity. At first, it was shocking to see how hurtful people could be, but I sat back and saw the bigger picture. My work was making people talk. It created discussions on women’s bodies and their rights, and these are issues I am very passionate about. By ignoring all of the hate I received and keeping my peace, I saved a lot of energy and became proud of this weird artwork that I partake in. I ultimately came out on top. As an artist, my work will be up for criticism and how I react and choose to take people’s opinions is up to me.
How can Affinity readers begin their own advocacy work?
Start out by asking yourself, what do you love? What are you passionate about? What do you want to change in your own community or the world? Then, think about all of the little steps you can take to make that change. There’s so much you can do with activism. Everyone should be working towards creating a better community and a better world for future generations. There’s so many ways a person can be active in their communities and be a positive figure for someone else. A small idea can turn into a very big change, so never doubt yourself.