To tell the truth

To tell the truth

The first comic book that Zaire Miles-Moultrie ever received was a 1994 first-edition Spider-Man with a holographic cover – a birthday present from his uncle. 

It inspired Miles-Moultrie to use his passion for art to delve into layered storytelling. From then on, he made his own comics, honing his drawing skills and attempting to “tell big narratives stories.”

Now, Miles-Moultrie is a senior at UNCG, pursuing a degree in entrepreneurship with minors in art history and arts administration, and a B.F.A. in studio art, with a concentration in printmaking and drawing.

When he applied for college, Miles-Moultrie sent in applications to UNCG, UNC Chapel Hill, and one other school. He told himself that if he got into Chapel Hill, he would go into the sciences to become a doctor. “But If I got into UNCG, I was going to be anybody who I wanted to be.”

When he landed at UNCG in 2019, he chose to pursue the arts.

In one formative interaction, Miles-Moultrie had a conversation with his professor Miranda Reichardt about pursuing drawing as a career. Her response? “What are you doing?”

“It wasn’t in a malicious way,” Miles-Moultrie explains. “It was asking me to try and think deeper about how I make my art and what I’m trying to say to the world.”

Reichardt’s existential question led him to an answer: He wanted to make art that portrayed truth without sugarcoating reality.

Zaire Miles-Moultrie says choosing UNCG allowed him to be “who I wanted to be.” In one year, the entrepreneurship and fine art double major has launched an exhibit, taken first place at UNCG’s undergrad expo, and become an AXA Art Prize finalist.

That’s what lay behind his 2022 show at the Greensboro Project Space, “The Lion, the Jackal, and the Man.” For the project, Miles-Moultrie conducted hours of research into African history, helped by art history professor Elizabeth Perrill and a team of research librarians. He says the process required unlearning negative Western connotations of the continent and its people.

In one issue of the London Illustrated Magazine from 1870, Miles-Moultrie found images of Zulu men who were described as “animals,” their hair described as “exotic.” This was a lightbulb moment for the artist.

He took the images of the men and glorified them on paper, emphasizing their hair, their adornments. “I wanted to give them back the energy that they deserve,” he says.

The show netted Miles-Moultrie a first-place prize at the 2023 UNCG Undergraduate Research and Creativity Expo in the visual arts category.

After the art show, Miles-Moultrie learned of the national AXA Art Prize competition through a professor who encouraged him and some fellow students to apply. Miles-Moultrie and his colleagues dissected each other’s works for hours, nitpicking them to see which would fare best against the competition.

In the end, Miles-Moultrie submitted “Beautiful Black Pearl,” a collage he made from a 1600’s print of a Black woman wearing pearls. Miles-Moultrie dresses her in extravagant clothing, framing her face with feathers and setting her in an otherworldly, celestial background.

“By using printmaking and drawing as my medium of choice I can express myself, my voice, and message in a multitude of ways while also paying homage to inspirations. My art, designs, drawing, and prints are collages of the many ideologies that I have come to learn, accept, and embody …” – Greensboro Project Space exhibit “The Lion, the Jackal, and the Man”

The piece involved deep research about the woman and her origins.

“When I’m tackling heavier subjects, I have to do research,” he says. “I have the responsibility to depict what I’m saying accurately.”

Miles-Moultrie ended up as one of 40 competition finalists, selected by a jury of curators from leading American museums and galleries. The finalists were selected from more than 700 students across the country.

Looking back to when he decided to apply to UNCG, Miles-Moultrie says that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“It’s been great. I’m excited to have this community of up-and-coming artists, to have this community that I never really thought I would have.”

This article will appear in print in the 2024 issue of UNCG Research magazine
Story by Sayaka Matsuoka
Photography by David Lee Row

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