Graceful Chaos

By The Seventh Wave

An Interview with Sia Serafina
September 10, 2020

Interviewed by Avi-Yona Israel, TSW staff

My tenure as Director of Advocacy for The Seventh Wave has largely coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, and consequently, most of my contributions this year have involved family and friends, the only people with whom I can connect without social or respiratory reprisal.

I lay this truth bare, not to revel in my laziness, but to hesitantly propose the following idea: my loved ones are the absolutely-most-perfect interview subjects. I respect their boundaries and they respect mine. We speak the same language, and we do it with equal fluency, even as the effort required in any one situation may ebb and flow. In that spirit, and with the utmost honor and privilege, I’ve collected some words shared between myself and Sia Serafina, my sister in all but blood.

Sia is a Midwestern-born, NYC-living dancer, artist, and photographer, among other things. Her work ranges from exotic to interpretive, from stunningly impressive charcoal renderings to sweet little texts inquiring about your health and happiness.

Avi-Yona Israel: I know you to be a woman of many talents how do you define yourself with regard to your craft? Are you a dancer, a visual artist, a muse? All three, or something else entirely? (In as much depth as you are comfortable, tell our readers who you are and where you come from.)

Sia Serafina: Well, thank you! I appreciate that. I like to think of myself as existing somewhere in the space between artist and muse. A lot of my pieces are composed of pretty straightforward representational self portraits I’ve taken, so being my own muse (or at least using my body as inspiration) has been at the forefront of my creative process. But for the longest time, I had a really difficult time calling myself an artist. So I think I’m somewhere between the two. And I’m always a dancer, which I think can encompass both identities as artist and muse very well.


Avi-Yona: When did you start creating, and with what mediums? Were you a creative kid, teenager? Did it come late? Do you remember (or even still have) the first piece of art you were conscious of creating? How did that evolve into what you do today? How have you grown as an artist?

Sia: Yes, so aside from creating lots of self portraits, planning out weird experimental short films, and creating my own (questionable) choreography to my favorite songs from a very young age, my experience with visual arts largely began with acrylic paints.

Both my mother and my grandmother had their own paintings around the house when I was a kid, and I remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen and painting apples and bananas and oranges. I was maybe 7 or 8. I don’t know where those pieces ended up. But I remember one of my first portraits in my early teens (I still have it) was a black and white poster-style painting of Jimi Hendrix. The contrast between black and white has always been something I’ve been drawn to, but I never used to draw in charcoal because I put so much pressure on myself for each work to be a perfectly representational masterpiece. And having this self-imposed pressure was almost a deterrent to pursuing any sort of creative process. So I’ve noticed that as the years have gone on, collaging my own work has become something that speaks to me more than anything. Because through reproduction and rearranging,

I found a way to organize something that’s so finite and straightforward that I’m often not super satisfied with (and maybe isn’t perfectly representational) into something that’s more organic, that I am more satisfied with. It represents this inherent paradox that lives within both me and my work. This sort of destruction/chaos/brokenness that leads to something that evokes unity / stillness / intention / belonging.


Avi-Yona: Is it fulfilling for you to create on a daily basis, or do you prefer to just catch inspiration when it strikes? Do you have any desire to change that?

Sia: Oh yes, definitely. As someone who has struggled with mental health issues in the past, creating something every day makes me feel a sense of purpose… like I’m adding something to the world. And I’ve been thinking more and more about finding this balance between taking from and adding to the world. Like as I’m inspired by things in the world around me and as I take these things, I can turn around and create things that could potentially add to the world and maybe even provide inspiration for others to take what they want from and then create something new. A cycle.

I also find myself looking for inspiration constantly as I move through the world because I tend to relate a lot of my value as a person to the things that I create… which is definitely a function of capitalism and productivity obsession. I’m working through it… but right now, for my own well-being, I have to be making things every day. I wanted to change this for the longest time. It’s obviously problematic when you view yourself as someone whose value is directly dependent on your productivity as an artist… because what happens if I’m ever unable to find inspiration as easily as I can now? But I think I’m resting on the fact that as long as I continue committing myself to nothing but the vibrant and constantly evolving experience of living, there will never be a shortage of things to be inspired by.


Avi-Yona: Which moves you most, your dancing, photography, your drawings? Something else? Are they all equal, or is it like comparing apples and oranges?

Sia: Honestly, they all serve different purposes for me. Dancing is something I’m more inclined to share with people because I do it for work, my charcoal collages are more personal because they deal with the way that I’ve dealt with trauma, and my photography is even more personal, partially because they’re mostly nudes for my charcoal reference drawings, and partially because I develop a lot of it in my bathtub and it takes on a really unpolished quality. They all move me because they all take into consideration the inherent paradox that lives within me between chaos / wildness and serenity / stillness. I’ve found that I have inspirations that are serene, playful, grounded, and intentional, and then inspirations that are destructive and chaotic and wild and hedonistic. But there is artistry in both. I have gone through periods in my life of wildness and chaos and hedonism, and I have also gone through periods of stillness and serenity and intention. My task as an artist in all of my different media is merging these two separate sides of myself and putting intention and gracefulness into chaos. I’ve been told that you can sometimes see it in my dancing. My inner stillness exists within outward movement. Because I have both those sides in me existing simultaneously.


Avi-Yona: Tell us about the first time you danced in front of other people. Who was there, and do you remember what it felt like?

Sia: The first time I danced in front of people was probably at a dance recital when I was a child. I honestly don’t remember what it felt like because I was so young. Even now, I don’t really dance in front of others unless it’s at work. A lot of my dancing is through having access to open studio space, setting my phone on the floor in an empty studio with only my music and my solitude, and filming whatever types of movement need to be expressed that day. And if I’m satisfied with it, I’ll send it to a friend or two. I really value all reactions to my art, but especially the ones from the people that I love. Actually, one of the most meaningful reactions I got was after sharing an open studio video with one of my best friends. She said “I feel myself feeling this” and that really stuck with me.


Avi-Yona: And the first time you showed someone your visual art?

Sia: I can’t remember when I first showed someone my art, because it’s been such a consistent thing throughout my life. But putting my art website out there for all to see was pretty nerve-wracking. I edited and re-edited the website several different times through several different platforms before buying a domain name, so when I finally decided to share it with a wider audience than just my close friends, it was a relief.


Avi-Yona: Do you consider yourself an activist? What major themes do you try to express in your art, and do you feel that they relate to the world around us, or are they something you’d prefer viewed in a vacuum? Why? Do you feel that way about all art, or specifically your own?

Sia: Yes and no. I think the way we view activism is oftentimes really self-congratulatory and centers the activist rather than the marginalized, so I don’t know how I feel about that term. But if an activist is someone who hopes that their work and actions could potentially bring about social and political change, then I guess that’s fitting. Because there are definite ways that my art can be politicized, especially because my work explores femininity and sex positivity, and my heavy inspiration from bodies is directly related to my experience working in the erotic labor industry.

But I also never want to tell people how they should feel about my art, because all reactions and interpretations are valid. I think art should be viewed through any lens the viewer wants to view it. If my art resonates with someone more if they view it in a vacuum, they can view it in a vacuum. And if my art resonates with someone more when they have context, they can have context. It’s the subjectivity and openness to interpretation that I think makes art so appealing. But I personally feel like my work does relate to the world around us. The way that these bodies are destroyed and then reconstructed in my work is a testament to a lot of the trauma that sex workers face in the industry. The fact that we’re able to rebuild after trauma in a way that is still somewhat unified and even aesthetically pleasing is a definite theme in my work, and if it’s able to provide hope or healing for someone who has been impacted by trauma, that’s political. Because healing after trauma is revolutionary in its own right.


Avi-Yona: How have the worldwide lockdowns affected you and your work? Have you thrived, wilted, or somewhere in between?

Sia: I wilted at first, definitely wilted. The lockdown came at a really interesting time in my life. I had this sense of hope at the beginning of 2020 that I never had experienced before, because I was really living a dream at that time that felt so inaccessible for a large majority of my life.

As someone who has experienced a fair amount of turbulence in my 25 years and who never really thought I’d make it this far, the beginning of this year was a dream. I had a lot of financial stability from my work at the clubs I was dancing in. I was commuting back and forth from Chicago to the city I love most. I was teaching yoga in the correctional system, and teaching math to elementary school students. I could afford to travel, to get therapy, I had an incredible support system of friends and family that I never thought I would have. So the first months of quarantine were really difficult because I was grieving the loss of this future that was just beginning to unfold. But folx who work in the erotic labor industry are notoriously resourceful, and we always find ways to adapt, so I credit my fellow sex workers and my close friends for inspiring me to make this situation work. This collective pause has also given me a lot of time to do extensive research on artists and movements that have inspired me… so that’s been really beneficial. I’ve had lots of time to revisit the biographies of Marina Abramovic, Georgia O’Keeffe, Maria Callas, and Billie Holiday. And I’ve found considerable inspiration in the works of Francesca Woodman, Maya Deren, Wangechi Mutu, Ana Mendieta, and Kathe Kollwitz. So I’d like to think I’m thriving again.


Avi-Yona: You began this year in Chicago, but recently made the move to New York — what’s up with that? Were you motivated by the desire to do any kind of work particularly? Or by something else entirely? Tell us about that.

Sia: Yes. New York City is a place that’s been close to my heart for years, and when I started traveling back and forth to work at a club in Midtown Manhattan, I was really able to spend enough time there to appreciate it to the fullest and realize that it’s where I want to be long term. I also got offered a residency this fall at the Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn, so I’m very excited to have a studio space for further exploration and to prioritize my creative practice.


Avi-Yona: Where do you hope to go with your art from here? What are your goals, and what are the obstacles that might stand in your way? What’s going to be the wind beneath your wings carrying you through it all?

Sia: Oh, wow. So I really would love to start working on a larger scale, start refining my work, and start incorporating different elements into these charcoal collages so that they have a sharper, more polished quality. I’d also love to explore reproduction in my charcoal work through printmaking, which is something I have no experience with. As far as goals go, it’s so difficult for me to think long term. But I know eventually I’d love to be able to produce a cohesive enough body of refined work that I’d be able to have my own solo show at a gallery here in Brooklyn, but I think there’s a lot of evolution that needs to happen in my life and creative practice before that happens.

As far as obstacles go, juggling my many different identities and lines of work is probably my biggest obstacle for now, because ideally I would love to eventually get to the point where I can be 100% myself in all situations and environments… stripper, artist, prison yoga teacher, math teacher, film enthusiast. But until we get to the point where erotic labor is seen as a socially acceptable industry to work in, a lot of sex workers don’t have the privilege of being “out” or using their real name. While that’s been one of the biggest struggles for me as I progress through my artistic career, it’s also made me appreciate the people in my life who hold space for me to be 100% myself, and I think that is probably the wind beneath my wings.

Headshot of Sia Serafina

Sia Serafina is a New York-based multidisciplinary artist. Drawing inspiration from the human figure, her work exists in several different forms including acrylic painting, film photography, charcoal collage, movement videography, and abstract painted film. She uses these various media to explore femininity, destruction, solitude, and the rebuild after trauma. Through her work, she illuminates both the abstractions and the realities of existing as a woman both inside and outside of her work in the erotic labor industry. Having roots in dance and film photography, she started her formal visual arts practice at Truman College in Chicago. She’s since had works featured at the Agitator Gallery, Slate Arts, and WomanMade Gallery in Chicago, IL, Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition in Brooklyn, NY and AlterWork Studios in Queens, NY. She completed her residency at Carrie Able Gallery in Brooklyn, NY in 2020.

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