• Call + Response

In Conversation with Doriana Diaz: Healing Through Heritage

Ashley Johnson, from Magnolias: Origins Series

In this week’s One + One interview, curator and writer Veronica Elizabeth Thomas speaks to poet and multidisciplinary artist Doriana Gabrielle Diaz

This Philadelphia-based creative and author of mami calls me gabriella and co-author of Sun Phases finds inspiration in her memories of family and upbringing. We spoke with her to find out more:

Doriana by Sarah Elizabeth Photograhy

VET: When did first begin writing, and how has your upbringing informed your writing, if at all?

DD: My grandmother used to rub my skin with lotion and whisper stories to me. She twisted me in gold and placed nectar in my hips. When we caress our children and display acts of love for their bodies, we are teaching them that they are vessels of adornment. She ingrained words into the fibers of my skin. Each crevice is a pocket of narratives told over and over again in the sound of her voice. When we are young this is delicate, we have to trust because we are innocent. Whose telling us these stories and how they are told is fragile. Sacred. This is how words became my souls’ communication.

VET: When you write, do you repeat any rituals or processes that fuel your creativity?

DD: When I sit down to write, it must be in a space that is sacred to me. Growing up, it was my grandmother’s house, specifically her kitchen. The kitchen was the room in her house where I learned how to love with my hands. After she transitioned, it has transformed to be any space I feel her spirit and energy. She wrote every day for the last 35 years of her life. In the basement of her home, there are shelves lined with her journals. After she passed, I began to read them, and realized that was a violation of consent. But in my readings, she was no longer saint, she was only human. Maybe the pages of those journals were the only thing that ever really knew all of her. Every time I sit down to write I think of her, and the trust that she bestowed to those pages of her journals. I want that for myself. Before I go, I know somewhere sacred must know all of me. I have to put all of myself somewhere, even if it is never found. I want to honor her commitment to the practice to put pieces of herself together and shake others loose. 

"When I sit down to write, it must be in a space that is sacred to me."

"Tell Them We Are Rising" (2019), Doriana Diaz, mixed media collage

VET: I understand that you were recently in Europe. How do you find a balance between working, traveling, and still finding the time to write?

DD: I think this is a really interesting question because I am still balancing these things. I am currently battling the in-between within my writing in this present moment, a place I have never been before. After the release of my first book, I made an intentional decision to take a pause. Which in length, has been the span of a year, and is still in effect. In October, I celebrated the first birthday of mami calls me gabriella, my first self-published collection of poetry highlighting my time in Puerto Rico, in which I met my birth mother and family for the first time. In releasing this to the world I began to understand those writings were no longer mine, my trauma was now open for interpretation, it could be questioned, tainted and even disregarded. Exposing my most vulnerable self to the world came with consequences. The ritual of writing has taken on new forms and meanings for me, and I am still defining them as we speak.

Traveling around Europe, I feel profoundly distant from who I was at that time and the spaces in which fuel my creativity. Which is has changed me. I am not entirely sure, in this present moment if I am a writer/poet, which for the entirety of my life has been an essential identifier of my being. Being in new spaces has assisted me in training myself to embrace the in-between: honoring the spaces in which I find myself questioning, and remaining curious about all of the uncertainty. 

VET: As for your art, your collage work often incorporates vibrant colors, patterns, and silhouettes. How do you go about constructing a piece?

DD: I construct a piece solely through energy and I allow my hands to form and construct. Initially, I begin by paging through magazines, and picking out the things that I am most drawn to, whether it be because of aesthetic, image, structure, or more. Rarely, do I ever go into making a piece with an intentional vision in my mind. Most often I allow whatever waves of energy to overpower me within the construction process and the rest fall into place as it is meant.

I, myself as an Afro-Latina collage artist aim to highlight the black and brown experience through visuals and aesthetics in my own work. Collage to me is the ability to find the pieces that speak most to the creative individual, whether that be in a magazine, on a mural, in a photograph or even words from a poem, or a short story, and collect them, shift them around, and paste them together to eventually create a masterpiece from those collected momentos. Collaging is essentially the embodiment of the participant. No two people can make the same collage and no one individual can re-make a collage twice. Every single time, one arrives at a new version of work that encapsulates who that individual is in that exact moment. 

Doriana by Sarah Elizabeth Photograhy

VET: Do you have any advice for others beginning their creative journey?

DD: Hold yourself close, and get out of your own way. Stand rooted in what you have to share with the world because it is precious. 

Find more of their seminal works here:

Twitter: @dorianagdiaz

Instagram: @dorianadiaz_