Member Spotlight


Valentina Lara


We spent some time getting to know the budding artist Silma. With a breadth and variety of mediums, she marches to the beat of her own drum. She was kind enough to answer a few questions in her space at AMPERSAND STUDIOS. 


I’m a rising senior at Princeton University majoring in English and earning certificates in the Programs in Creative Writing, Theater and Visual Arts in the Lewis Center, along with a certificate in the Department of African American Studies. I’m the current recipient of the Alex Adam ‘07 Award, an award that provides support to three university undergraduates who will spend a summer pursuing a project that will result in the creation of new artistic work. As a playwright, poet, photographer, and painter, I’m using the award to conduct archival research and digital and in-person fieldwork to spotlight the invisible––enduring love among Black people in the face of daunting odds. My final work will employ creative writing, visual arts and/or music to examine the complex lineage of Black companionship. The project will explore a subject that I’ve kept at arm’s length for quite some time. Following three generations of divorce, I’ve always been haunted by love. So I want to create an alternative: Black love as normal. How do I see myself as lovable? And how do I return that love? The multimedia work will negotiate the historical record, the idea of what might have been, and what is. I want the work to hold onto our hearts’ strength and celebrate everything it is to love and be loved as a Black person in America.


As I’m coming of age, storytelling has become a means of reclaiming and (re)imagining myself.  I’m very much a work in progress. But time spirits me. Writing in and out and between and amongst time/s. Storytelling has allowed me to collapse conventional temporalities to (re)order narratives and to re/create archives. I believe in creating a fantasia where Black is the norm. Because I am committed to imagining alternative realities, I take a particular interest in thoughts surrounding Afrofuturism: a cultural aesthetic that concerns itself with (re)awakening the past, (re)contextualizing the present, and conceptualizing the future of Black persons.  And Afrofuturism is more than UFOs landing on remote cosmos or superheroes with melanin sailing through Kool-Aid colored skies. Instead, I embrace this philosophy to envision a sci-fi empowered future. Science fiction is more than outer space or time travel, but a narrative based on change. Through art, I want to envision what can be for people like me.


My pocket-sized notebook is a means of traveling through bizarre streets and alleys, a means of manifesting invisible worlds. After my first poetry slam in the cafeteria of my high school, I began carrying a notebook that stretched the seams of my jean pockets, so I could cage every idea on loose-leaf. After reading a crinkled homework assignment in a place that reeked of defrosted french fries and over baked chocolate chip cookies, I fell in love with the musicality of language, and how it is a means of being me. Thus, I began to write freely. Regardless of the moment, I write; I write in nightclubs, dance floors, subways, coffee shops, before I’ve brushed my teeth and after I’ve set my alarm clock. I read what I orchestrated, rearrange and assemble my thoughts into passages, stanzas, verses. As I listen to the sounds of hard rock guitar riffs, vibrato on a soprano saxophone, or a heavy hip-hop bassline, my words metamorphose into alien rhythms. Soaked in scribbles, my notebook has become infused with a hunger to explore my experiences honestly –– to manifest a mixtape of myself –– by jumbling poetry and playwrighting with painting and photography.


My ancestors. I’ve been talking to something or somebody. It feels like my ancestors are doing the work; they’re writing it all down for me. All I have to do is put pen to paper. My ancestors and I are talking talking. My work is for my somebodies.


Meditation has been monumental in my life. There is immense power in living in the moment, in the breath, simply sitting in silence, witnessing thoughts move before me.


Ampersand Studios provides a fruitful home to cultivate my exploration as an artist. The space provides an extraterrestrial opportunity to rigorously learn, research, and experience alongside a creative collective. I know I have so much more to learn as a writer, and the community provides the energy to investigate and transform how I see myself artistically: a storyteller, a word player, a culture maker, or a keeper of tradition. I hope to become a DJ of different genres and times, mixing various crafts into my own multimedia projects. It is a place that belongs in all times, a place that forges futurologists.