Pew Fellow of the Week: An Interview with Media Artist Tayarisha Poe


Tayarisha Poe, 2017 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

Our “Pew Fellow of the Week” series focuses on the artistic lives of our Pew Fellows: their aspirations, influences, and creative challenges.

This week, we speak to Tayarisha Poe (2017), who creates complex portraits of young people of color in her multisensory work that blends film, photography, and prose across media platforms. Poe’s forthcoming debut feature film, Selah and the Spades, began as an online series of photographs, short films, prose, and web design, telling the story of a charismatic black teenager in a fictional Pennsylvania town. The project marked Poe as one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2015 and was further developed recently at the Sundance Screenwriter's Lab. Poe is a 2016 Knight Foundation Sundance Fellow and has been awarded grants from the Cinereach Foundation and Leeway Foundation.

Tayarisha Poe Q&A: Content Block 1

Tayarisha Poe Q&A: Content Block 2

Can you expand on this sentiment? What motivates you to tap into your internal youth and to keep going as an artist?

I think there’s something tragic that happens to us all as we get older: that moment when we realize people are looking at us with expectations about who we are and what we’re capable of. That moment kills our exploration in varying amounts, and much of life is then spent either breaking free of those expectations or living up to them. So when I speak about the internal youth I’m speaking about the person that existed before we realized we were being watched by the world. That person never dies, it just grows quieter. Letting that person live and speak and breathe and run and shout inside of us is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves. It makes us stronger, more blunt, fiery, honest. It’s exhausting, but it’s necessary. Sometimes.

If you could collaborate with anyone alive today, who would it be?

I want to make a Coffee and Cigarettes type project of several mediums with any black filmmaker who wants to be a part of it. That’s the dream. Soon come.

What is perfection to you, in the context of your work?

When my parents are excited about something I’ve created, they have this particular look on their faces that encapsulates everything I feel inside about art, about storytelling: they get this look of pure joy and a glint in their eyes and smiles so large that their cheeks are like small apples, and they talk over each other about the details of whatever it is. That’s when I know I’ve done well. Because my parents have good taste, and my parents are honest, and when I see that internal youth displayed on their faces it pushes me to keep creating.

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