Images from the short film, 'Hands like Roses'
This week's artist feature has as spotlight on Semaj Peltier, a model, actress and indie film maker currently residing in West Oakland California. With work like surreal biographical shorts filmed on VHS, teeming with the tensions of youth and dissolved mystification, there is a counter culture essence flowing through her veins. Her modeling always leaves an image with an incredibly strong sense of self. You can tell it's used as a mirror signifying where she is in life. We met up to get vegan burgers at Pretty Lady diner in the east bay, and got to chat a bit about future dreams and past inspirations.
Alexis: Where did you grow up, and does this have an effect on the movies or art you produce?
Semaj: I grew up in Sacramento, CA. When I was growing up it was referred to as The City of Trees. It fit my personality well, very calm with hints of excitement here and there. I grew up right beside an overgrown field and the river. I spent a lot of time hiding in nature and becoming acquainted with the beauty of it. A lot my films center a unity between nature and spirit, dissolving ones identity and giving it to the earth. I don't have many ties to that place anymore but I can always go back to the trees, the waters and the heavy summer sun. I've been told my films embody a lot of ecosexual principles, so there's that.
What was your first job ever?
I worked at a take-out Chinese place when I was seventeen. Didn't last more than a month.
You work within a range of mediums, in front of, and behind that camera. As a writer of your vision, as well as talent for others visions, do you have a favorite? And if so why?
It's hard to separate the two. In most of my films I am my own subject and have been since I got my first laptop, using Photo Booth for short art films. I am my own muse, and I am constantly developing my relationship with the camera, being in front of it influences how I shoot when I'm behind it and vice versa. But editing can be a nightmare...that's when I like modeling more.
What kind of women or characters are you usually inspired to write about?
My most recent experimental shorts were inspired by Sappho's poetry. Overall I'm influenced by women connected to surreal natural environments. Women in films such as Daughters of the Dust, Suzan Pitt's Asparagus, Phenomena...
What kinds of things do you gather inspiration from?
My dreams, the internet, experimental filmmakers that came before me.
What is your dream project and what would that look like to you?
I'd love to do an experimental movement piece over the lands where my family is from in Louisiana, rolling around in the mud, wearing a custom Cecilie Bahnsen dress.
What are you currently intrigued with, it can be a song, a style, a type of architecture, anything really…
Betye Saar's "A Loss of Innocence" and Ellis Martin's queer archival work.