“Still growing”: Ziana “Z” Pearson-Muller pushes boundaries with art


Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer

Local artist Ziana “Z” Pearson Muller leans on a small table she painted. Ziana creates art through all different mediums, including painting and photography. Last year, Ziana created a website and released a merchandise line.

Delaney Nelson, Assistant City Editor

Local artist Ziana “Z” Pearson-Muller has had the phrase “still growing” in her social media bios since 2017.

“My self discovery is my main priority and I’m constantly trying to make myself into the best version of myself,” Ziana said. “I’m still growing. I have so much more to learn, and when I learn all these things … I’m able to pass it on to somebody else. Still growing, always.”

There’s no one way to describe Ziana’s art, and no single category in which to place it.

There are common threads, like the incorporation of vibrant colors and natural elements. The characters in Ziana’s art are Black and are generally feminine and gender neutral. They said their work reflects the world in their head, as well as the world and the people around them who are Black and of color.

Ziana sits in a stairwell with several of her paintings. She wears a gray sweatshirt with the phrase “still growing” in green.
Ziana sits with several of her paintings. She wears a gray sweatshirt with the phrase “still growing” in green — a phrase she’s constantly reminded herself over the past few years. (Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer)

Lorrecia Pearson, Ziana’s mom, said her art reflects the way she pushes boundaries and has found direction in the art she creates.

“She’s not afraid to push the envelope,” Lorrecia Pearson said. “Z’s artwork makes me feel light and airy on the inside sometimes; her color schemes, the way she uses colors and sometimes she uses the elements …a lot of it just makes you feel really good.”

Ziana’s art has been in a lot of places — in the Black Lives Matter mural outside the Evanston Art Center, at an installation at the Hyde Park Philz Coffee location, on sweatshirts and pants, in people’s bedrooms, and as of recently, on the Evanston Fight for Black Lives’ community fridge. In September, it will be featured at the Evanston Public Library. She said she can’t wait until her art is in a museum.

Ziana said her dream job is to be a curator. She wants to get more Black and brown art and LGBTQ art in museums— not just as exhibits, but as staple pieces. She said it’s important for museums to show pieces that encompass Black joy and other emotions, rather than only featuring Black suffering.

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The overall goal, they said, is about creating more diverse spaces for Black art and more safe spaces for Black artists. They see representation in the art world as crucial, in part because they’ve noticed how the industry’s dominance of White art imprints on Black artists at a young age.

Ziana says their art and activism go hand-in-hand, and emphasizes Black existence and beauty in their art.

“I’m a Black Lives Matter activist,” they said. “I advocate for Black people … being able to do that with my art and showcase my work for a greater purpose means a lot to me.”

There’s no one single place from which she draws inspiration. She structures her art around everyday moments in time — moving into a new apartment, seeing her parents build their own businesses, going through an anime phase, even getting hooked on a specific color.

They say they’re down to try anything, and they live in spontaneity.

“Wherever the energy takes Z, that’s where she’s going,” Lorrecia Pearson said.

Her close friend and fellow creative Aubry Dupiton said Ziana is “walking art.” Dupiton said she’s always incorporating art into her life, including with her hair — he said he’s seen her change her hair color and style five times in one year.

“She’s a live-in-the-moment (person),” Dupiton said. “But live in the moment while applying it to the long term. Live in the moment, but very much keep in the back of your mind what it’s going to look like a minute from now.”

Pursuing art is also a form of self-investment, Ziana said. Their mindset centers on prioritizing what they’re passionate about and understanding what they want from life.

Lorrecia Pearson said Ziana is a free-spirited person who doesn’t want to be contained into societal norms, and that comes through in her art.

“I’m investing in myself,” Ziana said. “When I go to a 9 to 5, who am I investing in? A multimillion dollar company? That don’t got nothing to do with me. I’m a business in myself. I’m running a business, I’m trying to create my own legacy … Capitalism will forever try to take, but it’s like, ‘Okay, how can I flip that script and start giving into myself?’”

For a few years after high school, Ziana said she felt uninspired and without a clear sense of direction — she didn’t believe in herself, and her art suffered. She had her first successful independent showcase in 2018 at the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, but still wasn’t feeling confident.

With a combination of time, internal reflection and mindset growth, and surrounding herself with creative and supportive people, she started giving herself more grace.

Last year, they created a website, artbyzeeguana.com, as a way to elevate their art and business. They also released merchandise that included sweatshirts, sweatpants, socks and stickers. Most recently, they started creating airbrush work. Lorrecia Pearson said she’s been proud to see the strides Ziana has taken, and the way she’s taken her power back, as a 21-year-old business owner and entrepreneur who’s learning along the way.

Looking forward, Ziana said she wants to wear as many hats as possible, and said she carries on with the mindset: “I don’t tell myself I can’t do anything.”

They’ll keep working on self-discovery. They’ll continue to prioritize and positively affirm themselves. They’ll continue loving all the art they create, even if it isn’t the art they originally envisioned.

She knows she doesn’t have it all figured out and has a lot to learn, but is excited to keep pushing boundaries.

Perhaps most importantly, as Ziana says, she’s still growing.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @delaneygnelson

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