If you don’t know Ziam, then you probably aren’t from Detroit. An artist, adventurer, an open-minded dreamer, ‘Z’ has been a colorful presence in the city for most of his life. From the theaters to the streets he’s influenced friends, strangers and artists alike. One time he told me he’d seen Detroit inside out and with her pants pulled down. Anyone who talks like that has my attention. Here’s what the talented fusion artist had to say.
Ziam Penn is a multimedia performance artist who mixes genres of music, dance, film and fashion. Sometimes he uses them separately, sometimes all at once in live performances. He likes to mix elements typically found separately and combine them together. “Cultures, colors, textures and fabrics. I’m experimental, but there is there is a side to me that’s very traditional. I like taking the classics and making them funky. Learn the rules so I can break them,” he said.
Growing up on Detroit’s Eastside wasn’t easy, but he says childhood in the hood was a journey he’ll never forget. “It made me strong, made me a dreamer; finding beauty in things not seen as beautiful to others. Kids would tease me, not just for my sexuality, but also for the way I walked, talked and just my signature way of doing things. The original blueprint of our spirits, our souls, we all have it. It’s there when we are born and blossoms as time goes by.”
While the streets could be rough, his house was all love. Raised by artistic parents with a long creative history, “creativity flowed around me like water” he said. “Style, fashion, music, theater and dance were a big part of all of us. My parents encouraged us to be free, listen to music and express ourselves. They were free spirits and they raised us to be the same. In my family, being black, bisexual or gay was not something we focused on. I was taught to focus on love, to hold my head high and be proud of who I am, not to let what people say affect me. It was incredible.”
Ziam’s work is infused with his own mark of sexuality, whether masculine, feminine or both. He seems to explore all realms. A late bloomer, he said his sexual revolution began around the time he created a show called ‘Liquid Silver,’ a performance art show about freedom and individuality, expression of the spirit. “It moved beyond sexuality, past labels and social acceptance. It was just about being free.”
His brave exploration has helped others. “I have been a great part of the community,” he said. “I’ve trained and inspired a lot of young artists. I’ve educated people about the arts and brought them closer together on social issues such as race, gender, sex, self-expression and encouraged them to celebrate their individuality. People have often told me that my shows have changed their lives. Performers I grew up with and sometimes even people on the streets who stopped me after one of my shows to tell me how it affected them. It puts tears in my eyes knowing how I have touched people.”
“I’ve learned incredible things working so closely with people as a street performer. Seeing the challenges they face from interacting with them so closely has touched my soul. One important aspect of my work is the message I try to convey. I’m concerned with social issues and the challenges that we face as a human race. I am appalled, disgusted and shocked by the racism I’ve encountered here in Detroit and beyond. You would think enough people have died already in this particular struggle that it makes me sick to my stomach and it’s gotta stop. I address these issues in my work and am very conscious and aware my environment. I want to try and make things better through my art and help people.”
While parts of Detroit have significantly changed as of late, Ziam says he welcomes these changes and they haven’t affected his work. “I see the city changing, people, buildings, but change for me change is natural so I never let it affect me. I’ve always welcomed new things. It’s necessary we grow and never stop. If anything the change inspires me. A new time, a new era, a new ZIAM. And that my friend is very exciting. My jockstrap is on fire and I’m filled with enthusiasm life in spirit.”
Aside from his regular street performances, he’s been knee deep in completing a years-long music project. A series of CDs to be followed by stage shows that will be “very visual and musical involving film, dance, music, costume and theater. I’ve also got a few coffee table books and two documentaries about my life and career in the works.”
Some of his greatest moments to be featured in each would be working with Bruce Weber and a speaking role in the movie ‘The Color of Time’ with James Franco and Mila Kunis.
Whether in the studio or on the streets, Detroit is Z’s home. “Detroit is a great city and I feel honored to be from a place with such a rich history, regardless of its ups and downs. But a city that has been smothered, held down and held back can only breed a lot of violence, ignorance and suffering. Yet Detroiters are vibrant, tenacious and strong. It’s full of extremes and that’s the challenge. It’s a survivor. That makes us one in the same, I identify with Detroit.
And, it’s a place I call home and there’s no place like home.”
Article By: Ronit