MATRESCENCE Artist Feature Interviews // ZAHIRAH NUR TRUTH

Zahirah Nur Truth speaks with Matresence curator Catherine LeComte Lecce:


1.) Can you share your background and artistic journey with us, particularly regarding your evolution as a multifaceted artist? Your practice spans various mediums, such as paintings, murals, jewelry, and performance art.

That’s such a big question, but I think I can answer it. My journey started many years ago. I’ve always been attracted to art and thought it was something special. I’ve shared the story before, so some folks know a bit about it, but I really attribute my growth as an artist to motherhood.


When I had my first son in my early 20s, I was a stay-at-home mom. No one tells you how much time you have on your hands. He was a big, chunky baby, and one day I found some paint, I think from his sister, and I just started painting. I forgot how much I loved it. From painting, I started making jewelry because whenever I had time, I had this little guy with me. Anytime I was creating, he was always by my side. I started making jewelry at a jewelry school in Washington, D.C. called Make Peace, which was particularly aimed at helping women make a livable wage from their art.


That’s one part of my art journey. As an artist, I love doing all sorts of things. The only things I always joke that I don’t do are sing or dance. But if I can paint it, create it with my hands, cut it, or sew it together, it brings me so much joy.


2.) Can you walk us through your artistic process for “Mama Noir and Child,” your featured piece in Matresence? What inspired this work?

Yes, so this piece actually comes from a previous exhibit that focused on black joy and was also connected to motherhood. What brought me to this particular piece is the idea that everything kind of goes back to the past to bring it forward to the future. When I was a first-time mom, I struggled with breastfeeding. You might think that giving birth is easy and that the baby will naturally know what to do, but in reality, people need to teach you about the stages of birth and breastfeeding.


Because I had such a hard time breastfeeding my first child, I became a lactation consultant. What inspired this piece was the fact that, at that time in my life, many black women didn’t realize how important breastfeeding was, and there was a taboo stigma about it. That stigma still exists to some extent. So this piece pays homage to that time, emphasizing the importance and special nature of breastfeeding.


3.) Did you establish ZNT Arts before or after becoming a parent?

I probably would not be the artist I am today if I hadn’t had this amazing human named Divine Anwar Truth 19 years ago. As I shared in the previous question, I started making art when he was born because I had the time, but then I found that I really loved it. So I took it more seriously and started a business called Divine Fabrics.


It was named after him, and it involved some of the things you see me do now, but a bit different. It included painting, jewelry making, and a lot more fiber art, like fabric earrings and shirts, and hand-sewn items.


Along the way, I put art down for a while because life happens—I had another kiddo. Then I established Z&T Arts, short for Zahera Ner Truth Arts, in 2017-2018. That’s when it came into existence, and I elevated all the things I loved and love to do now.


In addition to my own art practice, I also teach aspects of it to the community, including painting, drawing, jewelry making, and hand sewing. I enjoy sharing that knowledge with others to spark their creativity.


4.) What advice would you give to other mother artists?

Incorporate your children into your work. Let them see what you’re doing, bring them along, and let them be part of the process. If they can, let them help out. Balancing motherhood is challenging on its own, but when you add the process of being an artist, it becomes even more demanding. So, I say bring your children into the process with you and have them enjoy it with you.


5.) Have you ever experienced guilt or conflicted feelings about pursuing your artistic career while being a mother, and if so, how have you managed those emotions?

I think being an artist can feel complicated at times, especially while balancing motherhood. For me, it has been particularly challenging because I’m a single mom. Historically, I’ve been a single mom to my younger son for 14 years. I’m always trying to find the balance between creating art, being present for things going on in his life, and managing what’s happening in mine. What I’ve found helpful is seeking support from others—finding reliable babysitters, working with professors, and checking if the art shows I’m attending are appropriate for children.


I’ve taken my kids to art shows that weren’t child-friendly before, which was a learning experience. Mom guilt is something that comes up for all mothers, not just artists. Society often expects moms to do everything all the time, which isn’t possible for anyone, even those who aren’t moms. You can only do so much, and it’s important to know you are doing your best. While I don’t have as much mom guilt as I used to, it still comes up sometimes. I’m now more intentional about my time when I am away from my children doing art-related activities.


6.) Have you faced any societal or professional challenges as a mother pursuing an artistic career, and if so, how have you overcome them?

To get to where I am as an artist today, I went back to school later in life. I’ve been in school for most of my children’s school lives. I was just sharing not too long ago how, when I got pregnant with my younger son 14 years ago, I was in college. I graduated from art school in 2021, so I’ve been on this journey for a really long time.


So, the first part of that question is yes. Being a professional student, balancing work, and balancing motherhood, I’ve had people tell me I needed to choose one or the other. But when you want to live in your purpose and pursue your goals, you cannot let anybody deter you from that. Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging. But I have a degree, I got it done, and I’m living my purpose of creating art. Nothing bad happened