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Four Questions with Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists Fellow, Z the Rat

February 28, 2023

(Photo and artwork by Z the Rat: self portrait and “I watched the sky fade in ur eyes, the sparse clouds, red, blue, green the whole fuckin rainbow”)

The 2023 application for Mural Arts’s Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists closes in less than one week, on Monday, March 6th! And while this application window is still open, we’ll be talking with a couple past fellows to learn about their involvement with the fellowship and see what they’re working on now.

First, about the fellowship: The Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists was designed in 2020 to fund, foster, and elevate the important work of emerging Black artists residing within the city of Philadelphia. This year, the 2023 Fellowship will support 15 artists of any medium with $2,000 in unrestricted funding to support their art practice. In addition to the financial award, this year’s fellows will have the option to access: networking opportunities convening past and present fellowship cohorts, local artists and art professionals; career development workshops; exhibition opportunities; 1:1 consultations with renowned curators; and opportunities to create new work.

Today, we’ll be talking with Zeinab Diomande, otherwise known as “Z the Rat,” An artist readers of this blog will know because we worked with Z on their first-ever mural created in Fishtown last summer, created with Living Walls Atlanta and Adult Swim.

Z the Rat is a Philadelphia-based multidisciplinary artist. Z was born in 1999 in Virginia. Her family left the United States to relocate back to their home in the Ivory Coast where she grew up and spent most of her life. In 2018, she moved to Philadelphia where she is currently studying, majoring in Fine Arts Painting and Drawing at The University of The Arts. Z was a 2021 AXA Art Prize finalist, and she has been a part of exhibitions internationally and across the country, in Abidjan, London, New York and Los Angeles.

Conrad: What have you been most excited to work on recently? 

Z: I have been working towards my first solo exhibition, and I am finally at the last stages of preparation as I am currently finalizing my last piece for it. A lot has changed with my work and I cannot wait to release this new body of work!

(Photos by Conrad Benner, Streets Dept)

Conrad: Last year, you created your first-ever mural, can you tell us about that experience? 

Z: I have LOVED the experience. I could’ve never done it without the amazing team that I had by my side to assist and also teach me. I saw a dream come true and this is permanent. I have struggled with things being permanent for a good chunk of my life and making this mural was definitely healing a that side! To Angela, Kristen, and Ash: thank you! And big thanks to the Living Walls team and Streets Dept as well as Ginger Rudolph! 

(Artworks by Z the Rat: “Lave Tet: returning home” and “Does It Ring A Bell?”)

Conrad: What’s a big goal you have for your career? 

Z: A goal that I have for my career is to see it prosper, have longevity. I am big on longevity, because you do not want to be seen now, hyped up only to be forgotten 10 years down the line. This is one of the reasons why I work as much as I do: I want things to last and they will. 

(Artworks by Z the Rat: “It’s a Sardine Situation and “Self soothing”)

Conrad: What’s been your experience with the Philadelphia Fellowship For Black Artists? Have you found it useful in pushing your career forward in any specific way? 

Z: I have loved being a fellow! It has definitely been helpful in terms of pushing my career forward especially with the making of the mural! This was the highlight of my year and something I hope to do again in the future!

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