Zhidong Zhang


Tais Sirote

Artist Feature

Every week an artist is featured whose single image was published by Der Greif. The Feature shows the image in the original context of the series.

Josh Aronson - Tropicana

Mar 10, 2021

I imagine my friends as the dignified citizens of an unspoiled society. We have escaped the big city, and arrived at a place of purity, where the sawgrass meets the sky. Young skaters, fellow artists, wild musicians and free-spoken activists live with us here, in harmony with each other and with nature. Scores of fire-engine red ladybugs crawl over our body parts, like ants on candy. Ember-colored butterflies perch on our tattooed cheeks. Palm trees have never been as gold or as green as these. Under sprawling canopies of Spanish moss, we look like pastel-colored pixies, floating freely between the easy-breezy clouds above and the brown brush beneath. I look at the waves and use the tides as a guide.


When first I saw Black, white, and brown boys chase each other for the fun of it, I was mesmerized by the sway of their freewheeling limbs. Their arms waved like Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Men. Zooming in, I noticed their glistening golden chains. Each individual link glimmered like a bead of orange juice, spilled accidentally. At sunset, the girls took dips in the river to cleanse themselves, in a spiritual sense. Their clothes stayed on, I told myself, like the uniform that accompanies a job you are proud of, and hope never to lose.


I watched high school sports teams practice after school. Their uniforms rendered bodies anonymous as they shapeshifted under the 4:00 p.m. sun. Ten years later, miles from my high school bleachers, I still want to feel that illusory sense of camaraderie I saw on the field. Yearning for the community I had projected onto those bodies, I conjured a space where it could flourish, and I photographed it.


The original inhabitants of the area that is now Florida lived in harmony with the land. In fact, in Mikasuki, the language spoken by members of the indigenous Miccosukee Tribe, the word for earth, yakne, rhymes with the word for flesh, akne. And just as surely as indigenous life shaped the earth’s course, the rupture of white colonization to follow took tenacious roots in the soil from which it had pillaged.


In my work, a generation of young Floridians return to the land as a source of sustenance. Florida, with its relentless sun, its River of Grass, its endless shores of salt and sand, rejuvenates them. Unlike their counterparts, my characters evade death. In their utopia, there is no genocide, no murder by white supremacy, no Stolen Land. To visualize an alternative Florida is to shelter its seeds and revivify them for the future. To imagine a world vibrating at its highest. A sustained pretense. A return to origin. A reunion