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ally zlatar

she/her | Instagram | Site | LinkedIn

Trigger Warning: This interview talks about Eating-Disorders.

I'm honoured that you approached us to talk about your work, how did you find us?

I saw your content all over instagram and I resonated deeply with both your platform and the way you are fascinating conversations around the creative arts.

Let’s start with your early career, tell me about your upbringing, what has driven you to this point?

I think for me, I started to find my artistic voice in the final years of high school. I decided to pursue a university degree in fine art (which totally crushed my passion for painting). but I think that stayed with me. It wasn't until my PhD where I had a chance to start to actually re-engage with the artist within me and that fire hasn't dimmed since.

You were diagnosed with anorexia which has fuelled many of your projects. How important is it to be having these conversations?

I think that the first step to actually creating change is to humanize and understand these issues with Eating Disorders and mental health treatment as a whole. I think that it is incredibly important when we do so, they need to be vulnerable and authentic to allow for genuine connection to occur. I believe that art is a powerful agent in having these conversations as it allows for such experiences to emerge. If we do not have these conversations, change will not happen or even worse, it will not actually address the needs of those affected.

How do you believe this diagnosis has shaped you today?

Really interesting question, as someone who is constantly trying to understand myself. Labels helped me categorise certain behaviours and tendencies. However…. I don’t let the diagnosis or the label define who I am. Instead I try to make the label not a badge I wear on my chest, but more like the tag on the back of a shirt, where I know it’s there but not at the forefront of my daily endeavours and how I perceive myself.

How common are eating disorders, do you believe there is enough help to support people with this diagnosis?

Personally, I believe everyone has some form of disordered-eating. There is no one right way to eat food and what type of food to eat.

Some people eat three meals a day with 2 snacks, others intermittently fast. When some people get stressed they comfort eat, others avoid food when they are stressed. Everyone has a very unique relationship with food and diet with varying degrees of harm. 1 in 10 people are diagnosed with a severe eating disorder (but these often are limited by ‘normalised’ demographics’ of who is prone to have an eating disorder). It is important for society to understand this because eating disorders and disordered-eating are vastly more common than we think.

On the second part, definitely not. Treatment teams are highly stereotyping illnesses, there are very little preventive care and very little funding and actual support services available for Eating Disorders globally.

How has art helped you throughout this time?

I didn’t have a community or a support system to be able to process these thoughts and really examine and explore these experiences. My family was traditional Eastern European and mental health was not talked about in my household, and medical practitioners saw a diagnosis, they didn’t see me suffering from a disease. Art was where I found my voice and really helped those around me understand truly what I was suffering from.

Can you talk to us about ‘The Starving Artist’?

The Starving Artist is an art initiative that utilises art-based education to help people globally explore lived-in experiences of eating disorders, mental well-being, climate change and migrant identity. Our work started on redefining current narratives, but continues to platform people to explore art to examine all aspects of life. The Starving Artist seeks to help foster systemic reform through the power of creative voices. Some of the key focus areas include teaching individuals how to process and share their own experiences through visual arts, creating artworks and arts-based research, publications, exhibitions, workshops, artist talks, and reflections that explore the themes concerning what it is actually like to endure the diversity of difficulties within our framework.

On the back of this you created The Starving Artist fund, talk to us about this amazing thing you are doing.

"The Starving Artist Scholarship Fund” is dedicated to providing financial assistance to marginalised communities in need of inpatient treatment for eating disorders. Many individuals from these communities face barriers to treatment, such as lack of access to healthcare or financial resources. The funds raised from our Starving Artist events, exhibitions, and sales go directly towards helping these individuals receive the care and support they need to recover. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to access the treatment they need to lead a healthy life, and this scholarship is one way we're working to make that a reality. :)

What has the impact of this initiative been?

This is a tough one, I think helping those who have had no concept of eating disorders or lived-in experience of body dysmorphia and mental illness. Through art people are able to engage in these conversations more deeply and vulnerably which has been neglected from the mainstream discourse for so long.

You have been recognised with plenty of awards and main-stream interviews. How has this been for you?

It’s been great to gain mainstream attraction, however sometimes it has been highly tokenised and plays into the stereotypical issues that my mental health activism is constantly trying to fight against. Nonetheless, there has been immense support from individuals who have reached out from these accolades which continues to ignite the work and voices further.

Do you think you have achieved all of your goals with these projects?

I would love to think I have made change, but the more I hear people’s stories and the horrors within our current systems I have become highly aware of how much work still needs to be done. It seems like small steps but hopefully it allows us together to make big strides as a global community.

Who are your standout creatives?

I would love to shout out Vivi Lin and Pear Chop Bun Wong. Both are Princess Diana Award Winners who are doing amazing work in their own regions on Period Equity and Menstruation Rights using creative arts activism.

For my final question, what's next?

Lots in the works but one that is upcoming shortly is an exhibition with Her Period Dignity in Thailand for menstruation rights and period equity so if that is of interest, check out my socials to find out more :).

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