Interview conducted by Lora Mathis, PD Senior Manager of Art
1. Your recent photo book (more) than dust. focuses on belittling phrases which are said to trans and cis women and non-binary femmes, in-order to bring to light the emotional abuse which feminine people often face. The book was born out of photos of yourself that you put online with toxic phrases said to you pasted next to them. How has this project contributed to your healing from past emotional abuse?
Confronting so many forms of abuse for this project has helped me clearly recognize toxic dynamics when they present themselves, quickly identify red flags, and solidified my ability to set boundaries against harmful treatment. I have woven this work into my identity, which has helped me integrate nonviolent communication into my core values and realize my own worth.
2. The (more) than dust. project also took awhile to come to fruition. You must be so excited to finally have it released into the world! How has your relationship with the project changed since you first began it? Does it now represent a larger, collective healing to you?
I took my time with (more than) dust. so that the book could become the best version of itself, and so that I could reorient my path around my well-being. When I first began the project, I was fueled by the raw emotional energy of being at the crux of processing trauma. As the project went on, and my emotional state seemed to settle, the work became more altruistic. I feel like so much of the pain and anger surrounding those experiences has been exorcised from me, and I am so grateful that this book is able to exist as its own entity to help others along their healing journeys.
3. Where Are You Press is publishing your collection of poetry the calming this summer! I read that the book focuses on healing from familial emotional abuse & forging your own identity through healing and mysticism. Do you have any tips for creating your own identity when abuse has been a significant part of your life?
Unlearning the conditioning from any form of abuse is a constant process that waxes and wanes depending on the day and mood. Lately, toxic patterns of thought have become background noise, but there are still some days when my inner world feels like it is attacking itself in some desire of oblivion. Cultivating the awareness to differentiate between internalized voices and my own inner voice helps me feel centered even on the roughest days. I will ask myself, is this thought something that has been told to me in hurtful situations in the past, or is this something I genuinely believe on any given day? Is a behavior I am engaging in something that has been passed on to me, or something that resonates within me? And so on. Through writing, dream-journaling, and various mindfulness practices, I’ve learned to listen to my own intuition as my comfort, teacher, and compass.
4. When I first interacted with you online, you were still attending San Francisco State University for Documentary Filmmaking and living in a home with friends in San Francisco. Now, you are in India, living in an intentional community and working on the calming. How is working on the book in a new community? And what’s next for you?
For the past 8 months I’ve been traveling and working at various farms and communities, and I feel blessed to be able to work on my art on the road. Right now I am volunteering at Sadhana Forest in Southern India, trying to find the balance between contributing to the community and focusing my energy on my craft. Hopefully being a traveling artist will continue to be a sustainable option for me. Next March I will be an artist in residence at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu on the outskirts of Beijing, so I plan on gradually making my rounds from here to there until then!
5. With so much of your work focusing on feminine trauma, what do you think art’s role is in healing? Can it be used to make a difference beyond personal change?
Ultimately, I think a major part of healing is release, and creating art is a channel for that release in a way that touches and heals other people. Our work lives on beyond our own overcomings, igniting a reflection process in the viewers without necessarily needing the presence of the artist themselves. Strong work speaks for itself, catalyzing change in ripples or in the ocean itself.
Terra Oliveira is a traveling visual artist, writer, and activist for women’s healing. They received their B.A. in documentary film production from San Francisco State University, which provided a strong foundation of honesty and ethics in their approach to art and storytelling. Their work has been featured in BUST Magazine, various blogs, art galleries throughout California, and film festivals around the world.