Q and A with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Ep. 230)

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is a contemporary artist from Brooklyn known for her street art, her political activism, and the striking portraits that she creates. Her Stop Telling Women to Smile project is an ongoing street art series that was published as a book last year. She joined the NOW conference for a live interview last week, which you will hear on the podcast today. Listen as Tatyana talks to Tim and Amanda about her artwork, her process, and her activism, as well as what teachers can do to help students find and express their own voices. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogantz.

Now, As you know, last week was our NOW Conference, the 15th conference that we have put on. It was an amazing event as always. We always appreciate the collaboration, the learning that’s going on, everything that art teachers have to share with one another, and it makes the days so worthwhile, so energizing as we’re starting to head back to school. And I think one of the biggest things that we can take away, one of the highlights for a lot of people is the chance to talk to artists and people who are out there doing the work, doing incredible things. And we had the opportunity to do that at this conference with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. And Tatyana is an absolutely incredible artist based in Brooklyn who actually creates art throughout the country. She does so many incredible things talking about social justice, talking about street harassment, talking about race and inequality, and her artwork responds to all of that.

And so I think she’s very well positioned with her art and her activism to speak to this political moment. And because of that, we wanted to invite her to the conference and she was willing to come talk to some art teachers and it was incredible. We absolutely loved having the chance to hear from her. And that’s what we’re going to play for you today. This podcast is going to be a recording of that interview with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh from our NOW Conference. Now, if you’re not familiar with Tatyana’s work, I would recommend that you go check it out. We will link to her website, to her Instagram, her current work that she’s working on now, as well as the book that she’s published.

The book that she’s published is called Stop Telling Women to Smile. And it’s a book based on a street art series that she had created, or I guess still is creating. It’s an ongoing series about what women have to deal with street harassment. And she does a lot of interviews for the portraits that she creates. And she’s turned a lot of those interviews into this book, and I’m reading it right now and it’s enthralling for lack of a better word, but just, it’s powerful to hear all of these people’s stories about the harassment that they go through, and seeing the work that’s created because of that. It’s really an incredible read. It’s a powerful read. And so I’d recommend that you and definitely check that out.

But like I said, what you’re going to hear today is our interview from the conference. Amanda Heyn, who you hear on here often, is my cohost at the conference. She and I put that on together. And so you will hear some questions from me, some questions from Amanda, but the whole interview here is with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. So we’re going to go ahead and play that for you now

Tim: We are ready to go with our amazing guest and amazing artist, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Tatyana is a contemporary artist from Brooklyn known for her street art, her political activism, and the striking portraits that she creates. Her project, Stop Telling Women to Smile is an ongoing street art project. It was actually published as a book last year and she is joining us now. So, Tatyana, welcome. How are you?

Tatyana: Hi. Thank you for having me. I’m good. I’m good. Thanks for asking.

Tim: Glad to hear it. We are so excited to have you here, have the opportunity to talk with you. So I guess just as an introduction, I think most people are familiar with your work, familiar with what you do, but for those of us that aren’t, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, a little bit about your artwork?

Tatyana: Sure. So I’m an artist and I’m based in Brooklyn, New York. I’m the type of work that I do is really based on portraiture and text, so I’m thinking about people and their experiences. My work is really based in the streets usually, so I’m a public artist, but I’m also a traditional artist. I do oil paint on canvas and I do illustration work for books and magazines and things like that. And through all of these different realms of my work, the different media that I work in from public arts illustration, my work is still always based around sort of the ideas of what people’s experiences are based on their identities. So thinking about black folks, thinking about women, queer folks, looking at race, looking at gender and how we experience these things in the public space. So I talk with folks, I interviewed them and then I take their stories and reflect them back in my work.

Amanda: That’s so awesome. I wanted to ask specifically about your Stop Telling Women to Smile body of work. I know for me, it’s a really powerful body of work that I really resonate with. And I was wondering if you could tell us how sort of the idea first came about, the reaction when people started to become aware of your work, and how that eventually it turned into a book.

Tatyana: Yeah. So, Stop Telling Women to Smile really started based on my own experiences with street harassment. And when I say street harassment, I’m talking about catcalling, things like that, so gender-based harassment, usually the way that women in films are treated on the street. And it’s something that I’ve been experiencing for a lot of my life and I really wanted to talk about that. I wanted to talk about my own experiences with street harassment, and I thought that the best place to do that would be on the street.

So when it comes to my work, I’m thinking about not just what the work is, but also the site of the work, what makes the most sense. Should it be a painting, should it be a drawing, should it be in the street? Where should it be? And for this work, I knew that I needed to do something in the street where street harassment happens so that I could see it and people who experienced harassment can see it, and that people who perpetrate harassment could see it as well. And it started very simply as that, me wanting to talk about my own experiences, and then it eventually grew to become this sort of collaborative project where I started to interview people and travel around to reflect the experiences of other folks.

I started to realize that my experience as one person is going to be similar to some other folks, but it’s also going to be very different, and so I wanted to talk about and understand street harassment in a more complicated way, in a more complex way. And the only way that I could do that was to talk to other people about their lives and their experiences, and also other folks wanted to have the work in their communities. So it really started in Philadelphia, in Brooklyn and then it started to travel all over the States and then eventually out of the country as well. And it’s an ongoing project. It’s something that’s still very dear to me. We are still, unfortunately, experiencing public harassment. And so, it’s a series of continuing to go and grow.

Amanda: That’s awesome. I want to transition into a little bit more of an art teacher question. So as art teachers, we love to know about people’s actual artistic processes. So can you tell us, when you’re out and you’re putting this work up in the street, what is your process like? Do you start with sketching? Is it a graphite drawing and then are you wheat-pasting or kind of how are you actually creating the work so that it can be out in the community?

Tatyana: Sure. That’s a great question. And I think that’s an important question because people see the site of the work, they see it out in the street, but don’t really know how I get to that. And I think the process of getting to the work in the street is really kind of more important, the most important part. And so for a project like that, I began with talking to people, like I simply have an interview with someone. Whether it’s in person, or online, individually or in groups, I have a conversation and I ask them questions. What is your life like? How do you experience street harassment? When did it start for you? What are the stories? What do you want to say about it? How does your race affect how you experienced street harassment or your sexuality? All of these things, really trying to get into a really candid and open and honest conversation with the person that I’m talking to.

From there, I shoot their photograph and I do the drawings from the photographs. So when I travel to different cities and I do the work, or when I used to travel to different cities, that’s not the case right now, I would photograph folks so that I could work from the photos. And then I do the drawings from the photographs. From there, I scan the drawings, so I have a high-res image of these drawings. The drawings are small. I do them in my sketch, in the 8 by 11 inches. But once I scan them, I have this high-res image that I can then print out whatever size I want. So I have the image and I add text.

Now, the text in these posters is pulled from the conversations that I have with the interviewee. I usually ask them, what is it specifically that you want to say to the public? Or what do you want to say to harasser? Right. And so I take that answer and I use it as the text for the piece. So I’m then combining the drawing with words, their words. And from there, I have the poster. Now what I do with the poster, I usually print them out as poster size, 24 by 36 inches, or I can do these huge murals.

I’ve done murals that were floors and floors up in the air. Again, I have the high-res image so I can really do whatever I want with it. And that’s the process. I wanted it to be black and white. I wanted it to be graphite drawings specifically because I can print them out as black and white images, which is cost-effective. And the whole point of the project was to get as many pieces out in the street as possible, and not just one image, right, but a bunch of them. So that’s it, that’s the process. And I think the conversation, having that conversation is the most crucial part for me, for the subject, for the whole project to really get a good understanding of street harassment and then make the work.

Amanda: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that behind-the-scenes look.

Tim: Yeah, we definitely appreciate that insight. I know our teachers love hearing about the process. And I wanted to ask you about a project that I know you’re working on now called the Black Paper project. Can you just tell us about that work, kind of how it came together and maybe what some of your goals are with the project?

Tatyana: Yeah. So Black Paper started really just a few weeks ago when there was this big surge of protests and uprisings around the country. I think myself, as an artist, probably like a lot of artists were thinking, what can I do? How can I be helpful and be effective in this moment? And what I’ve always thought about with protests over the years ever since Black Lives Matter really began was how can I supply artwork to folks. Whether it’s protesting in the street, using them as protest signs, whether it is putting them up in the streets via wheatpaste or using them online, we realize how powerful images are on social media, how can I supply that work for free as a resource?

So I partnered with a friend of mine who’s sort of a cultural organizer based in LA and we came up with this project called Black Paper, which is simply an art resource. So you go to, you will be able to download free posters, free images from myself and a few other artists, and you can do what you want with them. But the goal is for them to be out in public space, for them to be out as protest signs, to be wheat-pasted in the street. And it’s simply a resource for folks who are protesting and need artwork. So organizers can use it. Activists can use it and it’s free. They’re free to download and they’re free to do what you want with as long as they’re being used in the act for the fight for black lives. And it’s really that simple, but it’s something that I wanted to do for a while and now just seemed liked the right time. And it’s been getting a really good response and I’m happy about that.

Tim: Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s all incredibly important stuff and I love seeing everything that you put together there. And then just to kind of close things out, I want to ask my own art teacher question if I can. Since you’re talking to our teachers here, we would love advice from you. Just in your opinion, what can we do as teachers to help students find and use their own voices? What can we do to help our kids create work that communicates the issues that are important to them?

Tatyana: I thought about this question and I think it’s, I just wanted to pull from my own practice or this, which is to really talk to people and listen to them. I remember when I was a student in school, we’d get assignments to do this project, do this work and then you just kind of go straight into creating. So you grab your paper, or you grab your utensils. But I think it’s important to take a moment before getting to the actual artwork to really allow students to kind of sit and think and ponder what it is that they really are feeling, what they really are thinking, perhaps asking them prompt questions or something in order to really pull it out of them.

Because sometimes I think kids have a lot of emotions and a lot of feelings and things that they want to get out into the work, but it can be intimidating to have a big canvas in front of you and say, “Tell me what you’re feeling in this artwork.” Right? So what is the moment before that? Could it be a moment of journaling, a moment of writing, a moment of silence in the classroom where they’re getting an opportunity to really think about what they’re feeling or what their emotions are or what their experiences are?

When I interview people in my work say for Stop Telling Women to Smile, what I realize is that folks just really want a space to talk and to vent about something that happens to them all the time. They really just want to be able to get it out. And I think that might also be true for students. So I guess my answer to that would be to perhaps create a moment before getting to the actual creation of the artwork to allow them to explore their feelings, to explore their emotions.

And I think when you get that, you’ll get to the heart and the truth of what they really want to say, and perhaps it might be easier to translate that into a piece of artwork. So if they really want to say something about who they are and their experience, and perhaps they’re going to do a self-portrait or something like that, perhaps it will be easier for them and truer for them if they had a moment and a few minutes to really think and sit and write and get to the truth of what it is that they’re feeling before they create the work. I hope that’s helpful, but it’s something that I think could be helpful.

Tim: All right. That is a great answer, some great advice. Tatyana, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate you coming on and talking to us for a little bit. I know everybody loves your work, loves hearing from you. And so thank you so much.

Tatyana: Sure. Thank you for having me.

Tim: All right, so that was our interview with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh from the NOW Conference that happened last week. It was incredible to hear from you. It was incredible to just have the opportunity to interview her, to speak with her. And I loved so much of what she had to say, and not only how she describes her work, but the passion that she has for what she’s doing that really comes through when she’s talking about it. And just not only talking about her work but her working process, it’s always fascinating to hear what artists do, how they create, what they create and just kind of giving a little insight into that process and everything that she does.

And then at the end of the interview there, she talked about how we, as art teachers can help to amplify our students’ voices, how we can help them through their artwork talk about the topics that are important to them, talk about the things that they want to talk about. And I think that’s a really powerful message. I think that’s something that we can take back to the classroom this fall, that we can take back to our students when we were working with them, whatever that may look like this fall, just giving them the opportunity to use their voice to speak out about what they want to speak about.

This was a short episode, but I think it was a powerful episode. Being able to hear from an incredible artist about her work, about her message. And I would just encourage you to look a little bit more at Tatyana’s work. We will link to her website. We will link to her book, her Instagram, her Black Paper project that she discussed. All of that will be in the show notes for you. And yeah, I would just recommend that you take some time to check that out, learn a little bit more about her work. And maybe even if you’re not familiar, go check it out, come back, and give this another listen. I think that’ll be worth your time. So a huge thank you to Tatyana Fazlalizadeh for coming on to the Now Conference, for just offering all of her insight, and sharing a little bit about herself and her work. We very much appreciate it and it was an incredible interview.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.