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Interview with artist Zula Rabikowska

Tell us all about yourself and how you got into art.

I am a Polish social documentary photographer and visual artist based in London. I have always loved story-telling and working with people. I studied English and French at University and spent my early twenties teaching English. I had a short stint working in finance and various start-ups, and after a decade of unsatisfying office jobs, I decided to spend all of my savings on an MA in Documentary Photography at the London College of Communication. This was the start of my creative career and I have never looked back. What pulled me into photography is speaking to people about their experiences, I initially did that through words and languages, and later developed my skills and moved into visual story-telling. I work as a photographer and visual artist, and I also teach photography at Kingston University. My work explores topics linked to gender identity, queerness, migration and Eastern Europe.

Zula Rabikowska work - man with suit on

For any of our readers who would like to get into your profession, what advice would you give to them?

Unlike other professions, like medicine or law, there is no direct path to creative arts. In some ways this is very open and liberating, in others, it can be overwhelming and confusing as you might not know where to start. There is a lot of ageism in the industry and a constant need for “fresh talent”, this might be difficult for someone like a career-changer like myself, or someone starting a bit later. Many grants, competitions or opportunities have an age limit, which excludes many creatives. One of the options, which I took, is completing a BA or MA in the field, this can be an amazing experience, but costly and definitely not the only way to get your foot in the door. Networking and having a strong portfolio are necessary to get into photography, and so is resilience, determination and being able to handle rejection.

What is your coming-out story? Sorry, but everyone loves a coming-out story.. 

My coming-out story was linked to a documentary project I was working on. I was interviewing and photographing different people about their experience of gender identity in Central and Eastern Europe, I was travelling for over 5,000 via public transport for 100 days and I fell in love with one of my project participants. It was a Netflix moment, a love-at-first-sight scenario. I was staying in Tallinn the capital of Estonia at the time, and I told the project participant how I felt, and luckily it was mutual, so we started a relationship. I told my family and friends I had a girlfriend and that was that.

If you could use a magic telephone to call yourself at 15 years old what would you say?

Don’t work in finance, study art, play, make a mess, have fun and don’t be afraid to fail.

Talk us through your new project, how did that come about?

The images from this article are from my ongoing documentary photography project about
LGBTQI+ communities in the Balkans, which I had taken between 2022 – 2023 across Bosnia
and Herzegovina, Serbia and Greece.

I am currently finishing my newest project entitled “I Thought You Would Be Gayer” where I use self-portraiture, moving-image, text and sculpture to explore the relationship between gender identity, the body, hair and policing women’s bodies. This project stemmed from my long-term focus on gender identity and the body, and this time I am bringing in a very personal experience. Inspired by the work of Yoko Ono and Marina Abramovic, I invited the audience to cut off my hair during a performance resulting in a military-grade buzzcut.

Live performance where the audience was invited to cut off my hair:

When can people see your work?

I am active on Instagram (@zula.ra) where I often post finished projects, work in progress, behind-the-scenes material or photos of my cats. My website has a good overview of my projects, like Documenting
Gender Identity in Central and Eastern Europe
, covering the opening of La Camionera Lesbian Bar and some of my other commissions including Muslim Communities in England. You can also join my mailing list to receive updates about my work.

Photo by Zula Rabikowska - man with tattoos

For those based in London, I am curating a group exhibition at Photo Book Café with a panel
discussion and film screenings on Tuesday 21st May 2024

Thanks for chatting to the team Zula, we look forward to seeing more of your work. For more interviews with queer women and allies, head over to our interview section.

Team Nonchalant x

Nonchalant Magazine
Nonchalant Magazine

This article was written by one of our creative team writers here at Nonchalant Magazine.

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