the south florida artists calling for greater representation for poc
Tired of the lack of opportunities for people of colour in South Florida, this group of trailblazers moved to Los Angeles, where they've been shaping the cultural conversation since.
Photography Jawni Vidal
Zoé Lawrence, Yeek, Matt Cowen, Manuela Torres-Orejuela, Jawni Vidal, and Jenelle Smith belong to a group of visual artists, photographers and young creatives currently making waves and sparking conversation in Los Angeles. A diverse group of artists, their connection lies in their roots; they all come from South Florida, but moved in dribs and drabs to the city where dreams are made, to create opportunities and fight for greater representation. “I view my work as an opportunity to create representation for artists of colour, and also first-generation children of immigrants like myself,” says Matt. “I attempt to desensitise and change the narrative of black masculinity and put black feminism on display.” With their fingers on the creative pulse, here they share their stories.
Zoé Lawrence, photographer/filmmaker
“I moved to Los Angeles a little under a year ago, after graduation, mainly because of the opportunities there but also because I felt out of place. The culture in South Florida is mostly dominated by White-Hispanics and I can still remember experiencing a lot of anti-black micro-aggressions throughout the years. Currently, I’m focusing on learning the business side of art and staying away from photo/video work. I’ve been making music and just exploring different mediums, keeping my options open when it comes to art. I’m also curating a show in September that has to do with Afrofuturism and themes of seeing black people in space or the future. Lately I’ve been noticing how much science fiction narratives erase people of colour, so I want to do something to fuel the conversation surrounding that.”
Sebastien “Yeek” Carandang, model/musician
"I moved to Los Angeles in early 2013 to pursue a career in music. Growing up, the one thing that made me feel grounded was being imaginative. In Florida I definitely remember fighting a lot because I’m Asian, dealing with racial tensions and disrespect. Living in LA, I definitely feel like I fit in better here. I am currently still involved in music and am touring/working on a new project to be released soon."
Matt Cowen, photographer
"My family is from Jamaica but moved to South Florida before I was born. My primary impression of my hometown is that it’s so beautiful and full of genuine culture, but lacks in creative opportunity or progressive thought in general. I moved to Los Angeles about nine months ago in September 2017, seeking opportunity to expand my creative skill set and expand representation of our demographic as artists. I just recently had my second photo book stocked at Lower East Coast in Miami, and am also planning to have it stocked in LA and overseas before the year ends as well. I also recently co-directed my first music video ever for B. Cool-Aid, alongside my friend Brandon Stanciell, which will be released soon."
Jawni Vidal, photographer
"I grew up in Burbank, CA and moved to South Florida when I was eight until I was 17. I moved back to Los Angeles when I graduated high school in 2012 because California was always home to me. I only had to move to Florida because of my dad’s job. During my time in South Florida, I remember having a lot of anxiety. I would definitely call that my “rebellious teenager” phase. It’s so conservative there that, at times, even being slightly different can cause you to feel very marginalised. It’s crazy. Currently I’m modelling, photographing, designing clothing pieces, and creating whatever visuals I can get my hands on from videography to collage.
Manuela Torres-Orejuela, writer/model
"Growing up in Broward County, my wishes were to attend UCLA, become a Disney star (they do everything), and travel a lot. A family accident in 2012 forced me to leave South Florida behind and adjust to life in Bakersfield, California just weeks before senior year. Only 17, I chose to count my blessings and channel my grief into manifesting everything I wished could be. At UCLA, I studied Gender and Music Industry, and my only extracurricular was exploring the surrounding art, music, and poetry scenes. After graduation I went viral twice, which threw me deep into meme culture and eventually, deeper into art and music. I got to tour the U.S. and Europe with Aminé as an artist’s creative assistant and have since shifted my focus to my own neglected art. I’m about to release my first self-published collection of all of my non-academic, diary-like writing from college, sarcastically titled The Best Four Years (2013-2017). And I’m starting a band before I age out of the entertainment industry. Hit my line kids."
Jenelle Smith, photographer
"I grew up in a Jamaican household in Pembroke Pines, FL. I mainly express myself through photo and video. I would describe my work as very detailed and soft. I love a good close up shot. I moved to LA in November 2016, a couple weeks after my 23rd birthday. Even though I had a big group of friends, I always felt out of place. Growing up black in FL was kind of weird cause most people only have one perception of black people. I was always told I “acted white.” Or people would tell me I’m pretty “for a black girl.” I never really understood those comments as a kid, but it made me feel less valuable compared to my non-black friends. I always knew I would move out of Florida eventually. I knew moving to LA would be great career-wise, but I also knew I really needed to experience something new. I definitely feel more myself in LA. People who are meeting me now are meeting the best version of myself."