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Daniel E. Zamora: Healing Through Art After Substance Abuse

Houston's diversity and support groups have been instrumental in Zamora's artistic journey.

Daniel E. Zamora (Photography by Alex Rosa)

Whether creating art through sculpture, photo-based illustrations, or performance art as a spirit fox from a haunted realm, interdisciplinary artist Daniel E. Zamora has used his creativity to process his former substance abuse issues and other challenges in his life.

“This summer, I will celebrate ten years of sobriety,” he says. “That journey has informed my art, and I consider my art practice a healing practice. Being able to share experiences through my work has been an honor.”

Zamora’s healing journey through his art is now culminating in a new exhibit titled “Joy and Fear on the Homeworld,” which opens at the UH College of Arts’s Elgin Street Studios on May 2. 

Currently an MFA candidate in the University of Houston’s College of Arts Interdisciplinary Practices and Emerging Forms graduate program, Zamora received his Bachelor of Science in Global Art, Design, and Construction from Texas A&M University.

Zamora says art has always been a passion of his from an early age. 

“I grew up in a house where sports was the way of life,” he says. “In contrast, I really loved reading, drawing, and building things from an early age. My parents completely supported these things. Eventually, I went to a fine art academy for elementary school. That was really where I began to understand that there are specific environments that support creative education.”

Daniel E. Zamora’s La Ayuda Que Tenemos (The Help We Have)

 The openly gay artist has taken his experiences from life and created a distinct storytelling style that lends itself to magical realism and touches on the intersection of healing, timelessness, ritual, and memory. Those themes are represented through several mediums, including his performance art.

“There are various manifestations of my art,” he says. “I recently performed a show at the [University of Houston’s] Blaffer Art Museum called ‘Luca of the Dream,’ which is a multi-pronged project. I created a series of stories around a central character, a spirit fox named Luca. He is a creature from a haunted forest realm who has transformed into a healed being and has come to our world to share stories and different perspectives. Sound engineering for this project has been an exhilarating experience. From writing music, scoring tracks, and working with a vocal encoder to create unique effects, learning these technologies has brought this vision of storytelling to life.”

The closer one looks at his visual art, the more multifaceted it becomes. This is evident in his piece titled “La Ayuda Que Tenemos/The Help We Have.” In it, a male subject is sitting on a bed as objects fly around him in a bedroom setting. Giant, outstretched hands reach out towards him as flowers blossom on the ceiling, while others near the floor start to die. 

“This is an example of a photo-based art,” Zamora explains. “It’s also an allegorical piece. The outstretched arms represent the past, present, and future. They signify the help that’s always available to us. The flowers that are beginning to blossom represent friends who are in recovery and are beginning to bloom and flourish. The flower on the bottom signifies the fact that many of us die from substance use disorder. Tragically, many of my friends have not made it. The candles represent the years of sobriety. There is more symbolism throughout the work, but this is the way such things are represented.”

Another piece, “Infinite Birthday,” showcases the intersection of celebration and ritual and the way he’s been able to find joy and sobriety in his life. In it, a shirtless man sits hunched over on a bed with his eyes covered by a cloth floating in the air. He is holding a birthday cake full of shimmering candles. 

“The theme behind this is timelessness, memory, ritual, suffering, healing, connectivity, all these different sorts of things.” – Daniel E. Zamora

“The theme behind this is timelessness, memory, ritual, suffering, healing, connectivity—all these different sorts of things,” he says. “People do heal and they can find their expression and voice in meaningful ways. I’ve been able to revisit all of these things from my life that now inform the work that’s being produced today.”

These pieces, like much of the work in the show, is the result of his nuanced creative process, Zamora says. 

“I combine real-life portrait work with composition and illustration to produce an end result,” he says. “This creative process entails working with a model (usually a friend) in a photo shoot and capturing a number of expressions and poses. Then I’ll harvest the best images, make selections, and bring the best of those images into a digital application where the post-production process of illustration, composition, and harmonization begins.”

Infinite Birthday

Zamora has also begun writing a graphic novel, adding a new dimension to his art practice.

“More will be revealed in time,” he adds.

For anyone who attends his show, he says it’s his goal that people walk away remembering that art is a powerful means of telling a story and documenting one’s life.

“I hope my deep love, enchantment, and passion for storytelling is evident in the work,” he says. “I hope people are moved by the fact that there are stories to be shared and a myriad of ways to share our stories. They have the capacity to heal and strengthen us.” 

You can follow Zamora on Instagram @daniel.e.zamora_art

What: “Joy and Fear on the Homeworld”
When: May 2–10, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m
Where: Elgin Street Studios, UH College of Art • 3700 Cullen Blvd.




Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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