Connection Arts Space’s GOING SOLO series is back tomorrow night!
The second instalment in the series will be a conversation with Lara Chamas, a second-generation Lebanese, Australian artist, based in Birraranga (Melbourne). CAS volunteer Rachael spoke to Lara about the unique challenges of navigating art school as a person of colour (POC), defining success and finding your voice.
If you would like to hear more from Lara, make sure you register for GOING SOLO via our Google Form.
Rachael: How do you describe yourself as an artist?
Lara: I think primarily my role as an artist is that I’m a storyteller through visual language. I want to get a message across and the artwork’s intention is hopefully to tell a story.
Rachael: Do you have a preferred medium? What do you like working with?
Lara: I love to sculpt so most of my medium and how things turn out is in big installations but I love object-making. I like to say that if a picture tells 1000 words then an object tells 2000 words.
Rachael: Why do you say that? Why do you say that an object says more than a picture?
Lara: So I cast a lot of objects and I cast things have an indescribable energy to me. By casting, I’m taking a snapshot of that object how it is right now. I came back to photography a lot, but I feel like having something in three dimensions has a different energy to it than a flat image. Obviously it has more dimension and more facets to look at, but I think the main reason is because of touch. If my artworks are showing at a gallery it’s never, ‘don’t touch the art‘. It’s ‘no no, touch it if you want to’. Because I understand things by touching them and I think that adds so much more to say about something.
“If artists are storytellers then conveying your story is what makes a successful artist”
Rachael: I guess it does create a more sensory experience, that’s really interesting. Following on from that, what does success as an artist mean to you or look like for you?
Lara: That’s such a hard question because success is defined by so many things in the art world and it has taken me a very long time to get to this answer. When I was first starting out, it was ‘if I get one million shows’, ‘if I get gallery representation one day’, ‘if’ all this stuff like ‘if blah blah blah knows my name’ but success as an artist is being happy with your work. I have a successful artwork checklist…
Rachael: What’s on it?
Lara: I would have to whip it out to be honest! I don’t remember off by heart but essentially every art work I make, before it gets gets to its final iteration, I go through this checklist and I see, does it do this? Is it a successful work? Is it getting across what I wanted to say? And if it ticks all of those boxes, and the audience view of the work is somewhat close to my intention then that’s a successful artwork. So if artists are storytellers then conveying your story is what makes a successful artist.
“Find your voice. Keep going until you know what your purpose is as an artist”
Rachael: It sounds like you have taken the time to define what it means for you and you stick to it.
Lara: Yeah I ignore the external factors of who’s telling you if you’re successful or not, but a healthy amount of doubt in yourself I think is definitely important to being an artist. To never get too much of a big head.
Rachael: In terms of artwork in general – either your own or other people’s, how do you feel that art enriches your life?
Lara: It has to make me feel something. Positive or negative anything on the spectrum of emotions. Makes me feel and helps me feel or helps me either understand something or portray something when I can’t find the words.
“It’s alright to explore what you want to explore it doesn’t matter if they don’t get it”
Rachael: My next question is can you please tell us a little bit about your going solo session?
I will be speaking mostly about how to navigate the art world art school and galleries as a person of colour. The inevitable tokenism that will happen, the patronising that could happen, and the sense that already in art school you feel like you don’t really belong and you’re still try trying to figure things out (or at least that’s how I felt) and to not have a familiar face or somebody who looks like you or at least understand the references you’re making can can make it even more alienating.
The rate of people who drop out of a fine arts degree in the first year is a ridiculous amount. Each year of my undergrad there were less and less people. Not everybody makes it to the end and this is regardless of cultural background, but then especially – for example in my honours year I was the only person of colour in the class and it was hard for people to engage with my work because they didn’t want to be disrespectful. They didn’t feel like they were allowed to say something, so then I didn’t get feedback. My lecturers were all white and while this is fine, it does make it hard and it makes you doubt yourself a little bit if the subject matter of your work is about your culture or your religion and your lived experience as a person of colour.
When I was first starting out I wanted a bit of a push of to say it’s alright to explore what you want to explore it doesn’t matter if they don’t get it. So I hope to be a little bit of that for some people. Just because I am a person of colour I can make bad artwork. I’ve made plenty of bad artwork and it’s okay to admit that. Being able to get feedback in order to grow is so important but if people around you are too scared to engage with your work because of their own issues, it’s very disheartening and it just keeps you down and makes you unable to grow and get feedback and that puts you behind everybody else when you may or may not already be at a disadvantage.
Rachael: What advice would you give to emerging artists?
Lara: Find your voice. Keep going until you know what your purpose is as an artist. The way I think about art, because I am a conceptual artist, is I’ve built a practice that is my own world or my own mythology. But it took me so long to get that and it took me so long to realise, why am I doing what I’m doing? What is it that I want to say or do or portray? Why am I doing this? And I fumbled for years trying out different things, different mediums, having things for shock value, having things that were more subtle, to try to understand what works what gets across what I’m trying to say. If you’re just starting out, keep going until you find your voice and you’ll know when you find it because it will just feel right for you. As an artist you will have that realisation multiple times because you will change what you’re interested in.