You might be familiar with Samera Paz's name. Since her Menstrual Cycle series--in which the artist creates abstract paintings with her own period blood--went public, she's garnered recognition for being at the forefront of a movement that seeks to reclaim the experiences that are inherent to a woman's identity. She explores this theme in her photography as well, considering moments of girlhood that ultimately define womanhood by capturing the women closest to her, who she doesn't know at all, and women who she's since drifted from in their truest forms. But her efforts in women's empowerment do not end in art. After identifying a gap in the global community for spaces that belong solely to women, she founded empowerment group Girl Power Meetups. What started in Washington DC as a get together for young women to engage in positive, encouraging conversation with other girls in their community, has now reached a level of international recognition as young women across the globe take it upon themselves to follow in Samera's footsteps and create a place for women to grow, bond, and have the freedom to express themselves.
In this interview, Samera speaks with Girls & Glory's Anita Jayme about the magic of women unified, why the backlash to her period art actually inspired her, and what's in store for the artist who celebrates women in every aspect of her life.
Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do.
I’m Samera, I’m 23 and I’m a photographer, visual artist and founder of Girl Power Meetups. I just have a passion for creating art that captures emotions, tells stories and brings people together. I also love photojournalism and am a social activist.
Let’s talk about Girl Power Meet Ups! You founded this group in hopes of bringing women together in a positive, safe space. How did the idea come to be and what has the response been?
The idea came because there was a lack of spaces in my own community and in my own life where I could be around young women and talk about things that matter to us or have a space that was just made for us, by us. So I decided to create this community and bring all these different types of women together and this was definitely needed in Washington DC. It’s been running for a year and a half now and it’s been great. It’s open to the public and been able to expand to different cities and really spread the word. There is just so much beauty and magic that happens when you put women into a space and you give them a floor. They’re all so intelligent and it’s amazing to watch people connect and be open with people they’ve never met before.
I watched a video of a meet-up in Washington DC and it was fantastic because all of these young women were sharing their talents with each other whether that be in music or art etc.. What has been the most rewarding aspect of putting these meet ups together, but also seeing others motivated to organize on behalf of the group?
I think the most rewarding part of all of this is the friendships that are made. I’ve made a lot of friends through Girl Power and I’ve also seen people meet their best friends through coming to a meet-up. This happens at the end of every meet-up or even at the beginning where girls will say that they’ve always wanted to come but have been nervous, too busy, didn’t have someone to come with and then they come and it’s just the greatest thing ever for them. It’s rewarding because Girl Power Meetups are needed everywhere and it’s just so important that women have a space for themselves, to be vulnerable, but also to create friendships and know that there are people who are willing to listen to them.
For young women who haven’t attended a meetup, what can they expect from the get togethers?
They can expect a lot of laughs, a lot of crying sometimes. The topics that we talk about can get very personal and very deep. It sounds intimidating talking about something so personal with women that you’ve never met before but we make everyone feel at home whether it’s your first time or you come regularly. We make sure that everyone is comfortable and never alone. But that happens naturally. It’s not something we have to remind people to do when they come into this space.
As an artist and an activist, you’ve pushed boundaries and challenged the stigma surrounding subjects that are inherently part of the female experience. Why is it important to you to explore these themes?
Well I think that art is a great form of communicating and translating emotions in order to show your perspective. It’s just the best way for me to get my message across. I believe that women should have the right to express themselves, be who they are at all costs and that’s what I try to do with my art. Whether it’s me creating period art which is trying to break down the stigma of periods and women’s bodies or me photographing women in a way that society may not like or capturing them in their truest form.
Is there a moment you can recall in life that most inspired you?
When my Menstrual Cycle series hit the internet it became such a big deal on social media and I was receiving a lot of backlash from people I’ve never met. There were a lot of racial slurs and misogynistic comments and in those moments, you kind of think, why am I making this art? Does it have a purpose? And I realized then that I am supposed to be creating this period art because nobody else is. It’s such a weird concept that I’m getting people to talk about something they wouldn’t normally talk about.
You just got back from Paris and must’ve seen your fair share of art there. So, does art influence the way you view the current political climate in both our country and globally?
Definitely. When I was in Paris we went to a lot of museums and it was more traditional art, more classic. It’s funny because when I go to museum of course I love looking at the art on the walls but I was looking at people, observing people. And that’s how I see art. I see art in people and how we interact in with the world. So yeah, it’s definitely inspired me and my upcoming projects.
You’ve been recognized for your Menstrual Cycle series which features work created with period blood. It’s garnered a strong but mixed response ranging from praise to disgust. What is the message you hope viewers take from not only these pieces but the varying reactions they’ve received?
The message has definitely changed since I started. When I first began these pieces it was because I was excited to get my period and I needed to do something with this blood, I’m happy I’m not late, you know? And then after the reaction and how it circulated on the internet the message kind of turned into a social experiment as to how people perceive it and how they react towards me after seeing it. It’s definitely evolved but I think right now it’s more about how the physical act of doing it is about creating abstract work with a medium that I naturally produce and also pushing the boundaries of art and not limiting ourselves. It also goes along with my message as a woman that women can use whatever they want, this is natural. So that’s the direction this is going in now but the great thing about pieces like this is that they’re always evolving.
What role do you feel art has in politics and activism?
I think it has a big role. For me, I love politics, I love art, I love activism and I love that my art can fit into each of these categories in certain ways. It’s a great way to engage people, get your message across and let it speak for you.
Many of your other photo series continue to explore concepts of womanhood from both your POV but also in the lives of others. What attracts you to investigating other subjects and their lived experiences?
Girl and Becoming Girl, those series are really personal to me and I absolutely love working on it. And I love that it’s been ongoing for many years. I love photojournalism and I love photographing people who have a story and capturing emotion. There’s such a difference when you’re photographing yourself versus the other. You capture certain things and you see certain things in other people that you don’t see yourself. So Girl and Becoming Girl are about knowing these people personally but also photographing them in their truest form. It’s really interesting because a lot of the girls in the series have very complex relationships, or they’re very close to me or they’re people I’ve drifted from. So, it’s nice and a good memory for me to capture them.
Is there a theme that you’d like to explore in the future with your photographer?
Yeah I actually want to become a war photographer eventually. That’s one of my biggest dreams and I definitely want to start photographing conflict. I know you don’t have to travel to capture conflict or that subject matter, it’s just about the time and place and what you’re willing to do for it. War photography is definitely dangerous and scary and traumatizing but I am dedicated and it’s something I want really, really badly.
I mean, you could say that your photography already gives a voice to people who might not have one or feel like they have one otherwise. Is that a conscious decision or does that just come naturally?
That’s definitely what it’s all about. I tell people that I want to be in a field where I’m capturing the world, people and their stories that are not heard on the news or people that are not going to have a voice ever. I think that this should be my selfless job to find these people, tell their stories and show the world the truth. Whether it’s painful or heartbreaking I think that somebody has to do it.
Has there been a moment in your career that both challenged your work as an artist and reminded you continue pursuing your goals?
All the time. Every set back. Every experience or obstacle that I’ve ever faced as sort of been my reminder that I’m supposed to be doing this. I initially got into photography when I was 16 and that was because it was sort of a last resort for me. I had dropped out of high school and I was really depressed to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore.I got introduced to photography and it brought me back to life and made me feel like I had a purpose in this world. Ever since finding photography I feel like I deserve to live, I deserve this life and it’s led me through all of these tasks. Through photography I realized that I really have an interested in social activism. Through social activism I realized that leadership came naturally to me and I was really good at connecting people. So it’s really introduced me to all of these things and I think I owe it to my 18 year old self to pursue and see what can happen with this gift.
Alongside your art and your Girl Power Meet Ups you’ve also founded Locals Only DC and upcoming black empowerment movement Chocolate MLK. Why are these organizations important to you?
Locals Only DC was a platform I created that would highlight artists in the DC area and I wanted to capture it because we’re really underground about it. I’ve pushed that project to the side right now because I was just juggling too many things like school, my art, Girl Power. I’ll take a break when I want and come back to it when I feel like it. Chocolate MLK is a project/upcoming empowerment group that I’m kind of on the fence about. I definitely was inspired and I wanted to bring the black community near me together and discuss gentrification and acknowledge the community’s culture and its history here. That’s just how I am. If I see a lack of something in my community I just go out and I do it. I don’t wait for anybody else. I think everybody is capable of creating their own platforms and using their talents to the best of their ability and using that to inspire other people.
Are there any organizations or individuals who are inspiring you at the moment that people should check out?
Yes! My good friend Elyse she is the founder and creator of Sad Girls Club which is based in NYC. Basically, it’s very similar to Girl Power Meet Ups but Sad Girls Club has a focus on mental health and bringing girls together to discuss that issue and learn about it. We actually collaborated with them a few weeks ago so that was amazing. That’s our sister group. We love them!
If you could give one word of advice to young women today, what would it be?
Don’t wait for anybody to give you the things that you want. If you have really big dreams, you have to do that on your own. There’s no waiting for anybody. Go out on the street, connect with people. You are more than capable of doing anything you could ever imagine. It’s so necessary to help others but also help yourself and just believe in yourself. It sounds super cheesy, but believing in yourself will get you so far in life.