Through media ranging from drawing and painting to sculptures and installations, Leslie Jiménez explores the conflicts inherent in ethnic, cultural and gender identities. Her work questions beauty standards and challenges society’s expectations of women and girls.
In our Q & A, the Dominican-born, New York-based artist discusses the myths of the art world, the ways in which her homeland influences her work, and how young women can break free from externally-imposed standards.
FK: Many Latin American artists struggle to gain exposure in the U.S. What challenges have you faced?
LJ: I've faced many challenges, some economical and of language, given that when I came to New York, I didn't speak English. But the biggest challenge I’ve had and still face today is how to break free from the following myths:
The money myth.
The opportunity myth.
The gallery myth.
The exhibition myth.
The exposure myth.
The curator myth.
The political cause myth.
The starving artist myth.
The art residency myth.
During the many years I've been making art, I've realized that until artists are taken seriously, the art world will use and de-service the artist in the pursuit of exposure. Art costs money, art schools are expensive, and art supplies are extremely expensive, so why should artists conform with "having an exhibition opportunity only to gain exposure”?!
It is really disturbing that many organizations and gallery spaces expect artists to work for free. As if being included in an exhibition is some kind of payment that elevates the artist's status. It is unfair to perpetuate this relationship scheme.
Artists can make a living solely by people purchasing their work. That’s the real support that emerging artists struggle to get. Allowing an artist to put her/his art on a wall or space is not an opportunity. That alone is not enough.
FK: Latin American art is often grouped by geography regardless of theme, style, or technique. What is unique about Dominican art and how has it influenced your own work?
LJ: My work deals with the current situations and historical traumas of my country. I think the uniqueness of Dominican art can be found in the subjects artists take on. The lifestyle, belief system, and common beliefs of the poor, hard working population where I grew up inform and influence my art.
FK: Your work touches on the beauty standards many Latinas feel pressured to meet. How do those differ from U.S. standards of beauty, and how do these competing standards affect young Latinas living in the United States?
I see the effects of beauty standards on women in most of the places I've visited while traveling. The only difference may be the historical origin of them, according to the cultural and historical context. But in the end they remain the same psychological and physical shackles hovering over women and young girls.
LJ: You also explore the ways in which cultural traditions influence girls' behavior and their sense of self. What advice do you have for young women who are conflicted over family/cultural expectations and who they want to be?
One, I’d say, hang in there. Keep asking questions and when the answers seem silly and unfounded, don't give up. Also, don't blame your family for not giving you the answers you're looking for. Keep in mind your parents' childhood history and family history in general. Knowing this will keep you from judging them. Learn to love them as they are and appreciate their hard work.
Two, if you don't feel comfortable trying to be like everyone else or dying to be liked or accepted, that's alright and you're lucky! It is okay not to be understood by everyone. You're unique, beautiful enough as you are, there's nothing to fix about you to make you prettier. Take time to understand yourself, look at yourself and realize how incredibly beautiful you are.
Three, beauty is an organic term that changes from time to time, from culture to culture, and generation to generation. So don't let your life depend on it. Love yourself and change your mind about beauty as well. To be beautiful is to be alive, healthy and strong. The rest is just distraction that takes brain space, the one that can be used for brewing awesome ideas.
To view Leslie's work visit: http://lesliered.com/home.html.