One of Doriana Diaz’s earliest memories of artmaking took place on the balcony perimeter of the Philadelphia Museum of Art near the statue of the Roman goddess Diana. On the weekends, benches full of different arts and crafts catered for ages 5 to 10 were out in the open.
“My mama was heavily, heavily a deep lover of art history and used to stroll me around [museums] and show me all the art,” Diaz recalled.
The 25-year-old Germantown-based artist and poet grew up in Mount Airy. Her work focuses on themes such as multi-generational storytelling and Black womanhood.
Mentored by local artists such as Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta Mayson and Zindzi Harley, Diaz found a community in the arts among fellow Black creatives, specifically grassroots arts organizations.
After earning a degree in women’s studies from Temple University, she founded The Diaz Collections in 2018, an art project she curates that invokes “ancestral exploration of Black artistic wellness.” This collection includes mood boards, poetry, photography, films, audio, and books about Black history and culture. In 2021, Diaz even created a podcast called Who Made You Sis: In Spiritual Dialogue interviewing Black creatives.
Around this time, she bounced around different jobs, like nannying, until she found a position at an art museum in Philadelphia, which eventually drained her.
“I wasn’t doing any of my own creative work while I was working in that job,” she said. “It was a 40-plus-hour-a-week job, and I was getting paid –– it was well beyond full-time. And I was only being paid for full time.”
After a few months, she left that job and returned to her artistic roots. As a result, a new style and aesthetic emerged in her collaging work, transitioning from small-scale projects to larger ones.
“I started using tape in really interesting ways. I started experimenting with yarn in my work and other materials that I had never touched before,” Diaz said.
She found being an arts educator fulfilling compared to working in the institutional art space. She also argues that arts education and activism are intrinsically connected. Diaz managed “seeking out … Black-owned businesses to host collage classes in” and “funding and hosting events for Black creatives to come together and make art.”
When it comes to Diaz’s poetry, some of her art in the past has focused on her background as a Black and Puerto Rican transracial adoptee. In college, she released her poetry collection called mami calls me gabriella, which consists of her notebook entries made during her 2016 trip to Puerto Rico to meet her biological mother and family.
She credits the trip with helping her develop compassion for her birth family and learning more about her identity as an Afro-Latina, a Black person of Latin American origin and African ancestry.
“It was a very overwhelming experience,” she said, as it was the first time meeting her in person since growing up, she felt culturally disconnected, hardly being around any Puerto Ricans.
The visit tore down her idea of having an idealized relationship with her mother, who gave her up in a closed adoption. She even entered a period of mourning after the trip, crippled with depression.
“I learned all the things my life would have been if I had lived in Puerto Rico. And the family dynamics that would have existed and the things that would have been very hard to deal with and the things I really wish I had access to and the things I feel very outsider about that I would have if I had stayed.”
She eventually forgave her birth mother for giving her up for adoption and channeled her grief into art.
The practice has helped her better understand her identity and given her a community to process her emotions and help others do the same.
“Art has saved my life. It saved my life more than once. I’ve been in some really dark places, and art has literally been my saving grace,” Diaz said. “And that’s what I hope to be able to offer to anyone who ever takes a class of mine or whoever is, looks at art in the same way that I do. Like, I really do believe that.”
Diaz is currently working on another poetry collection. She also looks forward to hosting more art classes through spring 2024, including virtual bookmaking classes this fall, and building more wholesale relationships to distribute her art.