Today we’d like to introduce you to Chantal Lesley.
Hi Chantal, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
My path to becoming an artist was definitely not traditional (but what is traditional anyway?) I was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the southern tip of Texas on the border of Mexico. My parents are both immigrants from Peru and Germany, and while they meant well, I was always discouraged from pursuing art fearing that I would not become successful. So I did what most first-generation eldest daughters do, and did my best to please my parents and pursued a Business degree, but was quickly realizing that it wasn’t bringing me any joy or even success. In 2017, after being let go from a dead-end job, I found that moment to be my opportunity to get over the fear of failure and went back to school to pursue a double bachelors in Design and Fine Art Photography. After graduating in December of 2021, I’m happy to say that now I’m quite successful in many different ways. I have a career in UX Design and a fulfilling art practice and career where I am able to do work about my multicultural identity and explore a multidisciplinary practice, as well as being in the process of setting up my own studio space. It was not an easy process and was a hard and difficult road to go back to school. I had to overcome many barriers, financial, fighting imposter syndrome, and my own insecurities, but I’m happy to say that it was ultimately worth it.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It was definitely not a smooth road. For years I did not even allow myself to pursue or make art. I was trapped in this cycle of trying to please others and failing miserably and playing a victim. Even after deciding to break off from that mentality the road to pursuing my dreams was not easy, but did bring me a lot of joy and fulfillment which is what kept me going. As a student, I found that design would feed my mind and keep me challenged, while photography and art would feed my heart and soul and keep me fulfilled. Besides overcoming my insecurities of being closer in age to my professors than to my peers, and overcoming imposter syndrome, I also had financial barriers. Financial Aid would barely cover my tuition, leading me to have to apply to every scholarship I qualified for and often working 3 part-time jobs at once. It was a hectic time for sure, but I was hopeful that the end goal would be worth it.
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a conceptual photographer, which I like to say is a fancy way of saying I take pictures of whatever I want. My work is driven by a demand to be seen and understood while uncovering the layers of my identity as part of four different cultures: Peruvian, German, American, and Mexican. Being a part of multiple cultures has forced me to navigate the process of assimilating into each culture simultaneously, which often leads to feelings of alienation. In response, I create tangible objects that explore my past experiences, allowing me to connect with and challenge viewers. I create a visual narrative that reflects the loss of ethnic roots and explores the isolation and confusion felt from multiple cultures, a metaphor for the in-between– discovering a mental space that I have constructed while delving into my personal and familial past. I tend to insert myself in a lot of my work as a form of empowerment while challenging viewers to consider their preconceptions of women of color. My work is a way to turn the colonial gaze upon itself, and regain my power and agency. I would say that my practice is evolving to more of a multidisciplinary practice rather than strictly photography based as I gravitate to unconventional ways of printing photos and creating sculptures. Aside from being a recent graduate, I am proud of landing and completing my first artist residency at LATITUDE in Chicago, IL this year. It was an invaluable experience where I learned alternative printing processes, and it has completely changed the way I see and want to create photographs, and completely changed me as an artist really. Currently, I am extremely proud to be a part of Mexic-Arte’s Emerging Latinx Artists 26: Histories of Transformation. Mexic-Arte is a fine arts museum in downtown Austin, Texas whose mission is to enrich and educate the community through the presentation and promotion of traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino, and Latino art and culture. Emerging Latinx Artists (ELA) is an annual exhibition that highlights emerging Latinx artists and will be on display until February 2023.
Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I think my best advice is to be genuine and do not be afraid to ask for what you want. I believe that people genuinely want to help others, and I am always surprised by how lucky I get when I’m open and vulnerable about my wants and needs to those around me.