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A Utopian Society Full of Black Women

An Interview with Taira Rice by Xime Izquierdo Ugaz

Taira Rice is an artist and world-maker based in New York. She creates her drawings using pencils, pens, watercolor pencils, brushes, and watercolor paper. Many of her characters are taken from people in her real life, forming memetic worlds in which the Black queer folks in her illustrations are free to be. 

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: What is going on for Taira at the moment? How would you define her, what is she most passionate about right now?

 

Taira Rice: I would define myself as being very self-reflective right now and eager to dissolve any limits I’ve set on myself. I’m most passionate about creating a real world for my characters to live in and to be able to tell their stories from. Although I feel like my characters have enough presence to stand on their own, I think it’s important to not have them all separate; I want them to be able to join together at some point within a narrative in order to truly build their community and be able to represent the love and support that the actual Black femme/non-binary community has created.

  

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: How exciting to hear about the comic, to think of the characters coming together! How does one of your characters usually come to life? Are they based on real people?

 

Taira Rice: I usually think of a pose or situation/environment I want them in first, and once I’ve established that, I then think of what kind of person would be experiencing it. Since there’s no one kind of person that would be doing a certain thing in a certain place, a lot of my characters are a unique combination of all the types of people I meet everyday. I am inspired by the faces I walk by everyday and the faces that I interact with daily (friends, family, schoolmates).

I think of what kind of personality they have, where they’re going, who they’re seeing, what’s their name, etc. All of these details down to the freckles on people’s faces give me a plethora of references for my characters.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: I've been following your work for a while, always excited to see what else you have cooking up. When did you start drawing? What are some of the themes you keep coming back to in your work and why?

 

Taira Rice: My earliest memory of drawing is in preschool, so I’ve been drawing for the majority of my life. I’ve always drawn mostly women, and at first it started out as me just loving and studying the female form; I wanted to be able to depict it in a way that I thought represented not only my own body but the bodies of other women so that they feel seen.

As I’ve gotten older, I see my art playing with themes like sexual liberty, the duality of women, and how we can represent ourselves in millions of ways. I want to represent the powerful yet sultry nature of African-American women and how we deserve to be seen as the multifaceted beings that we are. After I started to develop my own style and way of viewing the world, I started to want to create my own world of women that was based on love, friendship, and unapologetic confidence in oneself and each other. I also wanted to be able to depict the daily life of Black women and speak not only on large issues in our community but also the everyday situations and experiences, good and bad, that shape us as individuals and make our stories unique.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: The unapologetic expression and depiction of Black queer women is deeply present in your work. As you say, in media these stories are often not depicted, and it's refreshing to see queer people of color's regular daily lives, hanging out in their room, playing with their cats. It's needed, especially when a lot of the content we see in the media is portraying suffering, do you see your work as combatting some of that? Have you seen any depictions of Black queer folks in media recently that felt real?

 

Taira Rice: I do feel like I am combatting those stereotypes because although I know that bad things have happened to queer Black women and people in general, that should not be the only part of the story that is told. I keep coming back to these themes because they not only help me flesh out feelings that I have about myself, but are also themes that are often overlooked or not seen by people outside of the queer Black femme/non-binary reality; people should see and try to understand the struggles and beauty within our lives. 

Some depictions of real queer Black life that I’ve seen have been the art that my peers are making. I’m kind of in my own world a lot and don’t really stay on social media, so I’m usually late when it comes to new things coming out in the world, but I’m lucky enough to have friends and colleagues in the art world that make work about their own experiences and really display a raw image of themselves and their community. Their work inspires me to stay true to myself and my message.

 

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: What are some of the stories you are excited to connect in your comics?

Taira Rice:  I’m excited to explore ideas about gaining self-worth, finding your own path in life. I’m also interested in platonic and sexual love between women, not being afraid of yourself, and taking risks in order to broaden your perspective on the world. Right now I’m working on a story about a deep love between friends and a galaxy that separates them.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: What is J.U.G and how did it begin?

 

Taira Rice: J.U.G (Just Us Girls) is a world I created for all of my characters to live in. It’s a utopian society full of Black women where the focus is on creativity and the act of supporting one another. It’s a perfectly imperfect world where people come as they are and are accepted for being themselves and where the only rules are to be kind, loyal, and uplifting. Not to say that nothing can go wrong in this world, but it’s more about the attitude they have towards problem solving and an overall consciousness of their surroundings and a respect for each other’s pasts, presents, and futures.

This idea came to mind when I was pretty young but has become more realized within the past two years; I’ve always drawn women coming together and just being themselves. I wasn’t always as optimistic as I am now, and I’ve gotten to this point by not only drawing women who looked and acted positively, but also believing and knowing that this idea isn’t imaginary. It is a real thing that can be experienced and lived in by building your own community and uplifting those around you.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz:  I love the idea of manifesting positivity by creating it; I have a hard time staying positive myself sometimes too. That's super special. Do you believe a world like that is possible? What are some of the biggest differences between J.U.G world and the world you live in?

 

Taira Rice: In J.U.G world, the things that make them different are what brings them together as a collective, but in this world a lot of people try to use our differences to prove that we should become divided. I do believe that a world like J.U.G is possible, but it starts with a mental shift from judging before we even know and from reacting instead of responding.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: Who are some artists you've been looking to that have inspired you visually, sonically, aesthetically?

 

Taira Rice: I’m inspired by a lot of musicians like Megan thee Stallion, Rico Nasty, Rhianna and Young MA. Their powerful voices and energy provide me with visuals that exude confidence and are inspiration for the unique qualities I give my girls. I also love to be on Tumblr and collect old images of artists, models, and actresses like Trina, Kelis, Sinia Ebony, and TLC. I am also inspired by the photography of Jamel Shabazz, David LaChapelle, and Katsu Naito. I am aesthetically attracted to a lot of ‘90s and early 2000s fashion, design, and architecture, which definitely helps me create the clothes, objects and spaces that my characters have and inhabit.

Some artists I’d name are Reese, who is an amazing photographer and graphic artist who depicts black girl and boy joy in an authentic way (@reesewitherblunts), Emily Manwaring, who creates magnificently large multi media paintings and sculptures of black women (@em.ill.e), and tayhana, who’s a sick DJ that fills the room with the kind of music to make people actually dance again! (@taliaagoddess). 

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: 2020 has brought us so many dark surprises and challenges. What’ve you been doing to take care of yourself? How has it impacted your artistic practice?

 

Taira Rice: I’ve been trying to make money anyway I can; next to the virus itself, one of my biggest fears during this time was finding a job to support myself so that I could buy supplies for my practice and feel secure. One random day, I received a follow from a tattoo artist named Naeem and decided to reach out to him about a possible apprenticeship. After showing him my extensive portfolio and hanging out with him at the studio, he decided to take me on and teach me how to tattoo. I’ve been tattooing for about two months now, and it has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I get to work in a Black-owned business surrounded by talented Black women and men, meet new people, and then put my art on them for the rest of their lives lol. I went from drawing bodies to drawing bodies onto bodies, which was a surprisingly natural transition from pen and paper. Changing up my medium, has opened my eyes to not only how much I can do and what I've already done, but also all the amazing things I'll do next.

 

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz: That’s incredible—it feels like a very natural transition for you to draw on bodies! What are some things coming up that are exciting for you?

Taira Rice: I’m definitely going to be continuing tattooing so that I can one day work at the studio I’m at and become a professional tattoo artist. I have also been dabbling in modeling lately, doing shoots with friends for their upcoming clothing lines, which has been super fun. I found out that I was decent at it because I have such a love and respect for clothes and the human figure, so when you put these together and add a camera, it gives me space to experiment with my body through certain poses and to study the limits of the clothes. Both are great ways for me to extend my knowledge on how to draw my own characters in certain poses and with certain kinds of clothes on. Through my “research” I’ll have a better understanding of how some fabrics and clothing shapes lay, wrinkle, tighten, loosen, or drape on the body and what kind of poses incite those changes.

Taira Rice is a 21 year old artist born and raised in Harlem, NYC and is the creator of J.U.G LLC.

Xime Izquierdo Ugaz is a South American non-binary multimedia artist/writer, curator, language justice worker, and educator. They're currently based in Lima and live with their cat Ocean. They are the visual arts co-curator at Nat. Brut, co-organizer of Cabritas Resistiendo, a QTPOC festival based in Peru, as well as BODYHACK, a mutual aid global party by and for trans & nb folks. Their first chapbook is titled Estoy Tristeza (No, Dear Magazine & Small Anchor Press, 2018).