Mercer Artist: Black beauty and power in Zianah Marshall’s artwork

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Image: Ivy Marie Clarke

Third-year artist Zianah Marshall.

Third-year student Zianah Marshall got her start in visual art this past summer, when she found a blank poster board at a George Floyd protest she was attending and began to draw. Since then, Marshall’s passion for art has only grown.

Black beauty and Black power are two of the most prominent themes of Marshall’s work.

“I find Black people very beautiful, mostly because we’ve been told that we weren’t for a really long time. I think it’s important to express that, draw that, show Black people in that light because we haven’t been in that light for so long,” Marshall said.

Marshall’s work is visually stunning, filled from edge to edge with vibrant colors and movement. She said she takes much of her inspiration from the music she listens to.

“Whatever I’m listening to, whether it be a specific lyric or a song title, something that I heard — like, for the exclamation mark one, the song ‘!’ by Trippie (Redd) inspired that one,” Marshall said. “As I continue drawing, I build on the different concepts and the colors.”

Marshall went on to explain that her musical inspiration is diverse and wide-ranging, which makes each art piece unique. She credits her Trinidadian mother and her Jamaican father with their reggae, calypso and hip-hop influences as well as for Marshall’s Christian upbringing. Marshall also keeps Travis Scott and A$AP Mob in her listening rotation but cites KAYTRANADA’s album, “BUBBA,” as her largest muse overall.

The strong musical influences make sense when one takes into account that Marshall produces music in addition to her visual art.

Marshall has been making music since she played GarageBand with her brother as kids, and she picked up the talent seriously around 2019. In late 2020, she began posting her beats to SoundCloud. She takes pride in the unique sounds she creates.

Art by Zianah Marshall

“I feel like it’s kind of an extension of my art,” Marshall said in reference to her music. “You can see it visually, and now you can experience it — you can hear my art, too.”

Marshall’s artistic forms are inseparable from each other. She’ll often draw upon her drawings to establish a title and tone for her songs and set one of her artworks as the cover piece for the song inspired by it.

“I have one song that I matched with the whale art — I believe it’s called ‘Ziaya and Mario’s World.’ It’s kind of like a Mario vibe, and I did that because I used to play Mario World with my family when I was younger back when the Wii was popular. It was a homage to my family, it matched with the whale and the underwater picture, and it kind of just reflected the watery feeling of that,” Marshall said.

Although there are no lyrics to Marshall’s music, Marshall views music medium as a storytelling device to communicate her feelings and the meanings behind her artworks.

“It’s just been a way for me to express myself in just a different way other than physically talking to you,” Marshall said. “Art kind of takes it a little bit deeper ‘cause not only is it, like, an expression of yourself, but other people around you get meaning from it, whether it be the same interpretation that you have or something different.”

Marshall’s interest in people’s diverse interpretations on a subject is also what drives her passion for history, which is her course of study at Mercer. Hearing different perspectives allows Marshall to understand current events and her own art more deeply.

Additionally, Marshall is pursuing a minor in Africana studies. She became interested in the subject after taking Prison Narratives and Intro to Africana Studies during her first year at Mercer.

Art by Zianah Marshall

“When I came to the South — I used to live in New York until I was 14 — Black history kind of just got meshed into everything else,” Marshall said. “So, when I got to college and took those courses, I finally got an in-depth look at Black history, and I was like, whoa. We’re pretty cool people. We’re pretty resilient. We’ve been through a lot, but we’re still here, and that kind of just inspires everything that I do.”

Marshall ultimately aspires to become a history professor, but she intends to continue making music and art into the future.

“Taking the time to be creative, finding something that you love to do, is really important,” said Marshall. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I feel like it’s kind of brought me a little bit closer to learning more about myself.”

You can find Marshall’s art on Instagram @zia.yaahhh and her music on SoundCloud at “Ziaya With Da Beats.”