Zillah is a multi-disciplinary artist and filmmaker with a practice across film, photography, poetry, installation and sculpture. Her work frequently explores the relationship between the individual and the natural environment.
Green Dark installation and performance (2022). (Still by Polly Thomas)
During her residency in the Elan Valley, Zillah developed her moonlight photographic series Green Dark, which she went on to complete over an extended period with support from the Arts Council of Wales. On Green Dark she writes:
“Moonlight allows me to slow down and experience the fragile beat of plant life and the landscape that contains it. Green Dark is an attempt to translate my experiences in and around the Elan Estate into images. I wish for these photos to be a voice for plant life and amplify its beat since it cannot do so itself, in that it is un-asking. I am guided by the sacred diversity of animal life which is sustained by plant life and in danger of being lost.
“The same landscape contains and sustains a unique and historic community of people, whose open hill farming practices, from tenanted farms, root them through their ancestors with continued belonging. Green Dark offers a space – neither darkness or light – to examine plant and human life, and the transition between them, in the discomfort of an uncertain climate future.”
Cwm yr Esgob (landscape in moonlight) from the series Green Dark (2021)
Green Dark features the tenant farmers of the Elan and Claerwen Valleys who keep sheep on the open hill without fences, as their ancestors have done for generations. They gather sheep together with their neighbours, sometimes still on horseback, forming a close community and passing down a traditional way of life.
Brexit, economic and environmental concerns, including biodiversity loss and climate crisis, are creating uncertainty for the future upland farmer in Wales. The members of this community starting their working lives may face great changes. Significantly, there are several young women in the new generation.
Work from Green Dark previewed in the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition, followed by the Welsh Parliament and Ffotogallery’s Many Voices, One Nation touring exhibition. Green Dark then showed in solo exhibition at Ffotogallery including photography, poetry, audio and additional media, and is available to view as a virtual tour.
Green Dark was further exhibited and won several prizes including the British Journal of Photography International Photography Single Image Award. It was acquired at the National Eisteddfod by the National Museum of Wales for their permanent collection.
Zillah went on to develop a digital installation of Green Dark at g39 on the Jerwood Arts UNITe residency, where she also performed poetry written in moonlight.
Elinor ‘Rhiwnant’ and Alice (portrait in moonlight) from the series Green Dark (2021)
After her residency, Zillah also wrote and directed the fiction film Staying / Aros Mae set in the Elan and Claerwen Valleys, featuring members of the local community. Starring BAFTA-winning actor and 9Bach singer Lisa Jên Brown, it is about a woman from the city who has a brief but life-changing connection with a hill farmer and the landscape.
Staying / Aros Mae was shown worldwide at over twenty festivals including Palm Springs ShortFest, and won several awards including Grand Jury Prize at Premiers Plans Angers Film Festival and Special Mention at Encounters Film Festival.
Staying / Aros Mae was produced by Jack Thomas-O’Brien at Sixteen Films through Ffilm Cymru Wales and BFI NETWORK’s Beacons scheme in association with BBC Cymru Wales.
Still from Staying / Aros Mae (2020)