Zinnia Cheewah, 51, prefers to use her voice for a cause.
So when the mural, graffiti, and tattoo artist, graphic designer, and art director was contacted by a member of the business community to paint a mural to encourage people to get vaccinated against covid19, she jumped at the chance.
“I am actually working for a discount price. The things that drive me is change. We need real change, global change. You can protest by writing your name on a ballot but, for me, that’s not enough.”
She said TT has over 300 new cases of covid19 a day, people are dying from the virus, including a friend of hers, yet people keep spreading misinformation about it. And, while she believes the restrictions are necessary, people are suffering emotionally, physically, and financially. So, she wanted to do something to encourage people to get vaccinated so lives can be saved and things can start returning to some kind of normalcy.
Cheewah said, as part of the private-sector awareness campaign, ttbeatcovid19.com, Amcham commissioned 15 murals, and several other businesses got on board. Amcham conceptualised the murals and she designed them.
She now has several completed murals as part of the Take the Jab Jab campaign on the walls of the TSL Group in Newtown, Powergen, the Queen’s Park Oval, and Mario’s Pizza on Tragarete Road.
Cheewah is also painting two murals in Sangre Grande and would like to do a few in Arima and south Trinidad, but she needs permission and support from companies.
“The international campaign is ‘Take the Jab,’ so the local campaign is ‘Take the Jab Jab,’ because of Carnival and Carnival is TT. I wanted to keep it basic and simple, concise and to the point. ‘Get vaccinated. Stop the spread.’”
She said the murals are for all companies and all people so, drawing on her 30 years of experience in advertising, she used primary colours and black and white. Even the height and font of the message were designed to make them eye-catching, and easy to read in passing.
Cheewah, who is from Belmont, is also eager to begin working on another project that is close to her heart.
She told Sunday Newsday she was moved by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May 2020. She said in TT there is a separation of the people and people do not realise it is “systemic racism.”
“Heavy-handed police brutality exists in Trinidad too. It might not be on the same levels we are seeing in the States, the way it’s overtly racist, but we have classism here.”
Therefore, as indicated in a recent two part article in the Sunday Newsday, Cheewah planned to start working on a mural with two other artists, Ronny "Pternsky" Boyce and Kerwin Jackson, to commemorate the lives of Joel "Lion" Jacobs, 38, Noel Diamond, 46, and Israel Moses Clinton, 27. The three men were shot dead by police in Second Caledonia, Morvant on June 27 last year.
Her hope is to bring love and energy into the community.
Born Darren Cheewah, she began painting at the age of five. Growing up around mas designers, she often helped paint and build costumes for Carnival. This allowed her to forge a connection with many people in the Carnival fraternity, which led her to becoming the art and music director for 3canal’s music video, Blue, as well as other local and regional music videos.
“I’ve really been lucky to be in the right spot at the right time and following my passion.”
Her first time painting a mural was at the penultimate Brass Festival, then, in 2013, she went to Suriname with another graffiti artist, Jap, to represent TT at Carifesta. And, most recently she painted the “silhouettes of pan excellence” at Renegades Panyard on Charlotte Street.
Cheewah said concealing her identity made it easier for her to “traverse the Trinidad landscape” and be around people in society, including friends, family, and business.
But, now that she is “grown” she feels she has to be who she is. So about three years ago she came out and only wore a dress in public for the first time last year. Now most of her clothes are more feminine or androgynous.
“I’ve always been non-binary but because I’m an artist and eclectic people would just say, ‘Ok, well, that’s weird.’ But I’ve recently found the courage to be more myself, or open about me being non-binary.
“I identify as being female even though I’m in a relationship with a woman. I guess I’m a lesbian. I was assigned male at birth but I’m going with my energy. It’s about however people want to define themselves.”
She believes non-binary or bisexual is more “palatable” and acceptable in TT society than being transsexual.
She has had people be rude to her or call her names, but she refuses to shrink away or be affected,
“I don’t feel like I have to be extra. I don’t feel like I have to gimp my hand or talk at a higher pitch or a couple of the other things that are associated with transsexual or homosexual behaviour. I’m just human, trying to exist.”