Photo by: Stalph. From left: UaZit, WaZeil wearing custom shirt and dress from WAZUAZ collection.
A creative soul trapped behind family shaming. A woman who cut her own ropes, unbinding herself from oppressive silence. An artist freely expressing herself through raw paintings of self-growth and awareness. A powerhouse couple dedicating their lives to their creative work and building worlds hand-in-hand.
Born Emily to an Egyptian, Pentecostal family, this woman did not find salvation within those boundaries. WaZeil [Wah-Zel] came to life after barely escaping an attempted honor killing with her fiancé, Jonathon, UaZit [Wah-Jet], by her side to pick up the internal pieces.
WaZeil is an accomplished artist and fashion designer. UaZit is a skilled graphic designer and musician. As one being, fueling each other creatively, they are WazUaz [Wahz-Wahz], conquering the world behind their collaborative brand, Stalph.
An older work of WaZeil’s highly detailed drawings hangs in Zach’s and my bedroom. While gorgeous, it does not do her present work or artistic growth justice. Recently, she custom designed a shirt for me from her WAZUAZ collection, and I was fortunate enough to have her sit down with me for a little Q&A.
Three summer looks featuring custom made Ellie PhOnt crop-top designed & fashioned by WaZeil as part of the WAZUAZ collection.
How would you describe your art?
I say Neo-impressionism because of the era and the similar subject matters in Pointillism because of my extreme attention to detail. My clothing I don’t even know how to describe what it is. (laughs). My art though is more important because I think it helps people understand.
It’s kind of sinister. Eerie, creepy, weird… I do like a lot of blood, I don’t know why, but it just comes out.
Would you consider yourself an Indy artist?
I think my style is very different than Indiana, but my work ethic is very Indiana. I feel like people in Indiana work hard versus other places where things are handed to people. I feel like I worked hard to get where I am, so in that sense I’m an Indy artist, but my style is very different than what you see in Indiana. I walk down the street and the clothes that I make are not what people are used to. We get some weird looks, like, “What is that…”, but I think that’s positive; it’s new, it’s fresh.
Who or What are your outside inspirations?
Ralph Steadman is a huge inspiration. I love his art and just the way it’s free and splattered and not a lot of restraints. I also look up to Salvador Dali because he is in his own mind on a whole different level. I’ve been researching him a lot and he used this method where he would literally drive himself mad and it showed through his work and that’s how I feel. I don’t want to necessarily call myself crazy, but sometimes (laughs).
What is your favorite pattern?
I like parallel lines, especially in the clothing line. I like zig-zags and straight, crisp lines. It meshes well with the freedom of water color and the splatters. And, I do have a lot of circles for Pointillism. I’ve always done that.
What is a piece you’ve done that you’re most proud of?
I’d say my self-portrait, I am what I Think, See, Say. When I was feeling really low in my self-esteem about myself and I look back on it now, and I think it’s one of the best pieces I’ve ever done. It really shows how I was feeling about myself and how my self-confidence has drastically changed. In that painting I was focused on my pores being big, and my nose in that piece is huge. There’s cobwebs on it because I was feeling like my skin was wrinkly and decrepit and I wasn’t taking care of myself because I was in such a dark period in my life. I think it’s one of my best pieces I’ve ever done because it’s true. I didn’t hold back. It actually felt good to look at it on paper.
What’s the average time each detailed piece usually takes you to draw?
I think it definitely varies because I have some pieces that I sit down and do in a night. And, I’ve got some pieces where I spend 3-4 days on them. Then there’s pieces that I start, and then I put down, and I don’t get back to it for a few weeks. But I’d say the average would be a couple days, 3 tops.
Do you usually stay up late completely pieces?
I don’t as often anymore. It’s frustrating because he [UaZit] works on the computer most of the time and when you’re using Photoshop or Illustrator, if you make a mistake you can erase it, you can retry. But, I get really frustrated because it gets to be like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning and my hand gets sloppy and I fuck up pieces and I get really pissed off. I get frustrated and then it’s like, I don’t want to go to bed, but I’m tired and I’m messing up my paintings, so might as well. I don’t pull the all-nighters as much as I used to because it shows in my work when I get sloppy.
Tell me more about the history, the backstory behind you, from Emily to WaZeil.
I grew up in a very strict Egyptian home, and I didn’t have a lot of freedom to express myself. Even down to the clothes I had to wear, I couldn’t reveal my body. I had to wear skirts, I had to wear sleeves that didn’t show my armpits or shoulders. I couldn’t show my cleavage or my bare back. Very constricting outfits. I couldn’t even participate in swimming in high school because no co-ed swimming. The standards and morals my family live by restricted me a lot in my lifetime. When I got into fashion design, my parents were very not into me going to fashion school and didn’t support that. The environment I was in wasn’t ever very supportive. Because of that, I never felt close to my parents or trusting of them.
My backstory, my brother-in-law sexually abused me, or assaulted me is the correct term to use. I never felt the need to tell my parents because it was awkward for me and I didn’t know if they’d believe me or what was going to happen because my sister has kids with him. There were a lot of things that I held inside. And, when I was old enough to move out on my own I did, and I started learn more about myself and who I was as a person. My parents were not supportive of that either. They shamed me a lot on my choices and the way I dressed and the way I styled myself or the way I would act, the friends I would have; it was just a lot of shaming. I think that’s why I do a lot of self-portraits and it shows the negative self-images because that’s the way they would treat me.
A lot of my pieces are dark because I’ve had a lot of things that have been stuffed inside of me and I’m just now able to release them because I have someone [UaZit] who is confident in me to help me release them. He’s helped me a lot to stop suppressing all that and get it out. I think it’s good to get that shit out. It’s hard to hold that stuff in. My art never really got good until I confronted my brother-in-law because that was the first step of opening up to my problems and it may have backfired [within the family] but it’s made me a better artist. If I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I feel like I’m on the right track now, which is positive even if I wish my parents had been more supportive. But sometimes, you need the struggle to be a better artist.
What is the darkest piece you’ve ever done in your work?
The darkest piece I’ve ever done were the two very first pieces I ever did after this traumatic experience, and it was a letter to my dad and a letter to my mom. They didn’t look dark, but the meaning behind them was very dark. The one to my dad was Don’t Choke on your Teeth, because he was not being a very good father and it’s funny now because he’s having a lot of teeth problems; two of his teeth broke. I find it humorous because in the painting, it’s a picture of him and his teeth are all cracked and broken and that’s why I named the painting Don’t Choke on your Teeth.
And, the painting of my mom was Don’t Choke on your Pills, because last year she was really addicted to pain pills and just wasn’t present or herself and it was bad. I think those are my two darkest pieces because they have the most emotion behind them; I was angry as fuck. So you look at them and if you don’t know the history, then you don’t realized that they are actually dark pieces, but they are.
What pieces are outside viewers usually the most drawn to?
I do a lot of faces that are double where there are two faces in one. I learned from the RAW show that people really relate to those because it shows different personalities. Like, one girl told me the pieces with multiple faces spoke to her because she’s bipolar. But, it speaks to people in different ways.
I feel like a lot of the times when I’m painting that there’s a master controller who’s helping me move along. And, sometimes I paint things, and I don’t even know why I’m painting them. I’ve got some weird extraterrestrial paintings that I don’t even know where they came from. But, I feel like when people see that, it has a different meaning to each person because it speaks to people in different ways. They could look at my paintings in one period of their life and then look at it two years later and it could mean two totally different things.
If you could send one message through your art, what would you want the public to receive?
I go in a few different directions with my art. My self-portraits, I want to portray self-love. And, that’s what’s really important. Everyone is judgmental of others sometimes, it’s human nature. I realize it’s bad because people will judge me and it tears down your self-esteem. I think with my self-portraits I want people to learn to love themselves and that’s why they’re so raw dog… The second thing is being free to express themselves without any hindrance because I’ve struggled with not being able to fully express myself. I want people to be able to express themselves however the fuck they want.
What are the next steps for WaZeil and Stalph?
Stalph is mainly it. We [WaZeil and UaZit, aka WazUaz, aka creators of Stalph] work really well together and feed off of each other. I think that’s the cool thing about our art. That’s what we want to do more is collaborate. I think that what I want to do personally with my art is to go bigger in scale. I’ve stayed smaller, like I think 15X20 is my biggest, but I want to go big scale. It’s just a matter of finding the right mediums to do that.
As far as the clothing, I’ve got big plans for that. The WAZUAZ collection is strictly custom clothing for people. I want someone to come to me with a vision in their head down to, “I want the stitching around the bottom to be a certain color,” like, I want it to be customizable for them and what they envision in their head with still a twist on my end. I think that’s important because no one around here is doing that. Customizable pieces made by you for you, that’s really fun. It’s really fun for me. I want the label to be well made and handcrafted. Eventually I would like to have multiple lines under the collection. When I first started I was doing evening wear, like homecoming dresses, prom, formal clothing, and I think I want to get back into that and high fashion items. That’s where my cool designs are. Those designs are just kind of staring at me on my wall right now.
Looking back on WaZeil’s self-portraits throughout the past year, you can literally see her growth as an artist and as an individual over time. Her transition of self-love took a lot of strength, support, and paint. WaZeil noted to me that learning to love yourself is a process of which we are all constantly going through and changing.
While WaZeil still loves her Egyptian heritage, she thinks the culture oppresses women and prevents them from expressing themselves. We are all humans and should have full freedom to express ourselves creatively how we fill fit, not how others feel we should.
Both WaZeil and UaZit exemplify freedom of censorship in their works. From art to fashion, from photography and design to music, Stalph offers personal, detailed, and distinct forms of expression. I am personally extremely excited about repping my Ellie PhOnt crop top from the WAZUAZ collection this summer. #CHANGEtheCHANNEL