At the age of 12 Zora spends her holidays with her father in L.A. and is casted on the streets. Back in Munich, she immadiately signs up a contract and becomes the youngest professional model in Germany. At the age of 14, she does her first oversea job in Arizona, USA: “I got 2000,- Deutschmarks, it was the 90ies. That was big money for a teenager. My mother was not really happy that I began modelling at such a young age, she has tolerated, even supported it sometimes, but in retrospective she was always rather sceptical about it. My father was very enthusiastic, he was and still is really proud of my modelling career and has pushed me.”
With 16 Zora is off to Paris. From the very start on she is booked for all the international fashion shows. Nick Knight is eager to have her in front of his camera, this is the ultimate accolade. Mark Borthwick shoots her in the backyard of his New York apartment, but you cannot see Zora’s beautiful face or body, because she carries some cussions in front of herself. This is like an omen: The pic is going to be a part of the Sonic Youth Cover of “A Thousand Leaves” (As well, it is taken for Miranda July’s book “No one belongs here more than you” and in its German translation “Zehn Wahrheiten”). But nonetheless, Zora will turn her back on modeling in order to study fine art.
“At my school I had to, as arrogant or trivial it may sound, assert myself. With modeling, I was rather successful, it was quite easy for me to get a job. In Nice I was confronted with the fact, that there of course were other talented people, too. People, who might be better than I was. By this I only worked even harder. At the very beginning, I still did some modeling jobs, but it was obvious where my priorites were.”
Through her modelling carreer, Zora was able to safe some money: “In Paris I enjoyed life, we were very often having dinner at restaurants and such. But I got my clothes for free. It was the 90ies, I was surrounded by escalating over-consumption. To refuse extravagance was my kind of protest. I did not spent my pays, I was pretty frugal, more than I am now” This attitude was very helpful for her further life. Zora bought, very down to earth, an apartment in Nice instead and financed her education with her savings.
Zora’s mother is from Uganda, her father from Kenya. She is, like both of them, a british citizen. First, she grew up in England. But her parents are members of the Sannyasins and drag behind their guru Osho – even to the city, which he had built in Oregon, USA: “We have only worn red-orange clothes. It was pretty tough for a child to go to a regular school. I can understand what attracted my parents to the Sannyasins. With my kids though, I would never do that. You gain no recognition. We were often separated from our parents and I missed them a lot. When I was seven, we were educated privately at a residential school. After a while, we took off our red-orange robes and went to a public school again. But I was wilder than all the other kids: I used to live in a flat-share with 20 people. I was 8, when a friend of mine came to visit me at home. One of my flatmates expecetd his boyfriend and opened the door. Topless. Instead, there was my bourgeois friend with her mum standing, with an open mouth, they almost fainted. I felt terribly emberassed.”
When Zora is 4 years old, her parents split up, with 12 she does not live in a flat-share anymore, but for the first time in her life in an apartment only with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend in Munich. Zora has only one or two very close friends, that’s it. Everything appears to be normal but her school mates bully her for the modeling jobs. 20 children surrounded her with the magazine in their hands, whose cover she was on. They shouted, ‘Here, sign this up as you’re famous now!’ Teachers then intervened: “I only wanted to get out of this narrowness and be somewhere, where no one knew what I was doing neither who I was,” Zora comments on that scene of her childhood.
But first, Zora decides to finish College at her father’s place, who lives now back in Kenya. But her new classmates soon get to know about her new “part-time job” and respond negatively. Zora tells this sober-minded: “But I don’t regret it. Modeling meant such a big freedom to me, I could always do what I wanted to do. I had an incredible amount of time to read: Henry Miller, Burroughs, Sartre’s dramas.”
In Kenya, Zora also gets the attention of the photographer Peter Beard, one of her father’s friends. He invites the 15-year-old to Paris. One year later she lands in the French capital. Zora developes a huge career as a model. But: “We’ve lived in a bubble, a microcosm of its own.” She works hard and tough, and lives together with her boyfriend who is a musician. But the other bandmates’ girlfriends were surely people with a different background, weren’t they? “No. They were all models, too. ”
At 20, she takes a first break. With her than-boyfriend, she escapes for half a year to Iceland. Back again in Paris, she does not feel comfortable anymore. She applies for two art schools, both take her. The decision to Nice is one against Paris, it is like a liberation from the life that at a certain point she felt to be unreal. Today, Zora is looking happily back: “In our kitchen is a picture of my friend Hannah Hallermann. This is kind of a collage. It points the way to our Academy, in the background you can see the seaside. I spent so much time over there. I still love it.”
The 32-year-old now lives with her boyfriend, the journalist Hendrik Lakeberg, in a Berlin-Kreuzberg apartment: “Actually, I have always lived like in a hotel. More than that, I almost squatted. But since Hendrik and I live together, we settled down. However, we hardly have any furniture. A lot of stuff is from our friends. Or I found something on the street and saved it. I would really love to live in a completeley white apartment, with little decoration. But I don’t manage to do that. I always start to collect little things, small art objects and such.”
Besides the art in the living room, there is a portrait of Denis Castellas, that Zora exchanged for one of her portraits that she took of her friend Hannah Hallermann. Again, there appears one particular name, Hannah’s. Zora is still surrounded by only very few people, which is touching in a way. From a distance she seems to watch people. Awaiting, in no way unkind, but you do not really know what she is thinking of you. You need to be aware ot these small gestures: Just like the starfish in the kitchen, which is allowed to stay on the wall as a relict of her previous tenants, simply because Zora did not seem to have the heart to ban it from its firm place. It is, however, as she would hide this vulnerable side almost a little – and interestingly, she explains her own work and approach as an artist in the same way.
“I work with oppositions, in terms of the space and the content, as well. Art is able to connect paradoxes in a unit. It is a struggle with the world, so I do it.“ Zora’s studio is a colorful jumble besides carefully against the wall leaning canvases, sketches kept safely in folders. Zora collects what she dreams, there is her spine, which she took out of her mouth in one of her dreams. Glass fragments, dandelions, war bombs, a quotation (‘The risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action’): “The then-Vice President Dick Cheney said this before the U.S. attacked the Iraq”, Zora says. “These words happened to be so cynical to me, I simply had to work with them. From time to time you find quotes in my paintings, I like the idea of incarnation and necromancy.”
Zora’s career looks like a spiral, there is always something coming back. Last year, she wanted to allow more warmth: to let the creative process be still visible. And she wants to keep that room for improvisation, perhaps in her work with wood. On the canvas, she has returned back to a cooler style. “What I love about painting is that you find yourself often at a point where everything is possible. With each single move, you can change everything.“
Thank you Zora for your time! To look up more info about Zora, visit here site.
Text: Nella Beljan
Photography: Mirjam Wählen