Are you “Down To Be Artsy”? Spirituality, Travel and Diaspora with MOYA
Born in New York City, MOYA (Shirley Reynozo) is an Afro-Dominican, multi-disciplinary artist based in Paris. Shirley manipulates her surroundings and experiences to represent the nuances of Black and Latinx identity through film, photography, music, poetry and short stories, navigating the written form in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. In addition, Shirley is an astute academic, with a BA in Racial Politics in a Global Context from NYU’s Gallatin School of individualized Studies, and a MA from Columbia University in History and Literature.
Galore: What is the meaning behind DTBA? What is the story behind your art page?
Shirley: DTBA is an acronym for “Down To Be Artsy.” I consider it the action of existing between the physical realm of the universe and the infinite world of the mind. This evokes the understanding of the multiplicity of existence which is used to manifest all inner artistic desires. I created the page while I was undergraduate at New York University. It was a way of keeping my spirit alive while working vigorously on my assignments. I have to definitely thank my friends Marc and Adelina who encouraged me to tap into an expression that helps me define myself and the world around me.
Galore: How do politics intersect with your artistic practice?
Shirley: Not everything has to be political. Sometimes we like things just because we like them, in the way that I wear glasses because I need them. Some things are the way they are, just because. With that regard, taking portraits has always been a pleasure of mine, just because. Photography became one of the ways in which I could calculate my perception of what was before me. The form of art was a way of easing my thoughts because although I couldn’t control the difficulties of my family’s situation or the political structures, I was able to control the construction of my image.
Galore: Who do you aim to represent in your work?
Shirley: I take pictures of people of color, just because. Just because they are my friends and because I always saw something beautiful in their ways. I wasn’t seeing my friends represented even though they were the only people I knew.
Although my origins in photography has been “just because,” there was never anything political about my subjects. But the reason my subjects aren’t represented in the way that I see them is very much political due to America’s socio-political climate and the importance that it places on race as a form of disenfranchising and marginalizing groups of people based on their ethnicity or class.
When I became conscious of the political parameters that have marginalized communities of color and represented people of color under similar lights, I wanted to extend my hand and perception of how I saw the people of color around me, and how they saw themselves. In their flaws, in their rawness, authentic self or under the confinements of a creative direction.
Galore: What is your favorite kind of photography?
Shirley: I absolutely love taking portraits! The majority of the people I photograph are my friends. Taking portraits of my friends is really how I developed my skill. I even love stopping people in New York City and asking them for their photos. NYC just has that energy, I haven’t yet worked up the courage to do that in Paris, the people are more distant. New Yorkers are always with the vibes! I’d love to one day shoot campaigns and work with modeling agencies, I believe my work is definitely editorial quality.
Galore: Where are some of your favorite countries you traveled to?
Shirley: I have loved South Africa the most! I felt I had a very special connection with the people that I met there. They are very open in spirit, the culture is diverse, the vibe is captivating. South African house music has been my default vibe ever since. Sho Madjozi, DJ Maphorisa, Samthing Soweto; I can’t get enough of them! I even did a short interview series on the racial politics in South Africa, which you can see on my art page: https://instagram.com/dtba_
Galore: How did the quarantine period impact you as an artist?
Shirley: As someone who is a student, being alone in a room is almost natural; I have to be alone to study, and focus. The quarantine period released a lot of pressure that comes from navigating the real world. I was able to zero in and focus on myself. I aligned myself spiritually and began to connect with the artist in me. Expression is life, it is authenticity. While I wasn’t able to plan shoots with friends, I was able to develop editing skills on Adobe and Photoshop. I even began writing music again and I believe this is what balanced me out the most. I hope to release a project in 2021.
However, the quarantine period was certainly difficult. In France we were confined from March-June. Then they confined us again in November. It really wears down a person if you don’t practice your own form of spirituality. On top of it all we had the BLM protests and it was traumatic to not only see how things unfolded in the United States, but also to have been tear gassed at the three protests I attended in Paris.
Galore: In addition to photography, you write poems, short stories and music. What projects are you currently working on?
Shirley: I am currently working on music with a diverse group of individuals from the United States, South Africa, France, Tunisia, Switzerland, and England. The artists I’ve met and connected with represent to me a beautiful diaspora of culture. I feel fortunate to know like minded people.
Music is the closest way in which I can connect with pure energy and my ancestors. Music is also the most fluid way I can make sense of the four languages I speak and all the cultures that shape me.
Galore: Why have you decided to go by the name MOYA?
MOYA: Shirley Reynozo is my government name. I am going to start embracing my maternal last name as my artist name, MOYA. Upholding this name frees me from all the politics associated with real world problems and responsibilities. I also feel the Moya family are the wings on my back; my aunt, grandmother and grandfather have been the ones to shape my moral compass. They are the ones who nurtured me and saw me to reach new heights. What’s more, the Moya last name in the Dominican Republic has a very specific association with white land-owners who were also against the Trujillo dictatorship. I feel the name carries a lot of history behind it, and I am certainly a product of this history. There is so much displacement when one is of Afro-descent given the histories of colonialism, “racial” mixing, and migratory patterns.
“Moya” also means wind/air in Zulu, and it makes me feel connected to the Black diaspora, especially because I only have beautiful memories from my summer in South Africa. It feels like a full circle moment to want to identify with a name that has traveled throughout time and across the Atlantic.
In a deeper sense, I felt part of what helped me keep my sanity during the quarantine period was sitting out on my terrace and meditating. Listening to the wind. A lot of my song writing feels as though the words were whispered into my ear; winds coming from all directions. What’s more, as someone who loves to travel, I feel as if I am carried by the wind. So I absolutely love that “Moya” means wind/air in Zulu.
All in all, I hope people will feel healed by music, which is written in the four languages that I speak.