Sexism and sexuality, identity, gender: Kelly Chuning’s research revolves around these themes. Born in 1997 in Southern California and raised in Utah, Kelly Chuning is an interdisciplinary biracial Latinx artist based in northwest Montana. In 2020, she received her BFA in Studio Arts from Southern Utah University. Chuning’s work has been shown in group exhibitions nationally and internationally, most notably with Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in New Orleans and Field Projects Gallery in New York City and it has been been published in many magazines. Her work is in the Southern Utah Museum of Art’s permanent collection and The Gala Awards Exhibition Collection.
Chuning Kelly, Installation View. Copyright Chuning Kelly
The word – the language – is the basis of your artistic practice. Why did you choose fiber, fabric and fiber art to express yourself?
Commonly small in scale, the medium of felting has been viewed as a domestic, feminine craft. I am interested in expanding the medium beyond its domestic expectations. Creating large pieces out of wool grants me the access to command whatever space my work is shown in, making them extremely large so the viewer has to acknowledge their presence and the words they say.
What are the themes on which your artistic research focuses?
My work investigates sexuality and the role of sexism, verbally and emotionally, in regards to identity. I am interested in the divergence of memory with material and how that dictates our perceived notions of subjectivity.
What is identity for Kelly Chuning?
Identity is the essence of an individual, it is the good and the bad. It is where our humanity lies and where we find our sense of community and purpose.
How and to what extent are your works autobiographical?
I considered all my work autobiographical. Every piece I make stems from an event in my life or encounter with friends, family, strangers, and even myself. My work is my life and I firmly believe that. I was once told, “don’t make art that is personal” and I love proving that statement wrong everyday.
Chuning Kelly, WOMB. Copyright Chuning Kelly
We live in societies that are and will become increasingly multicultural. How is your artistic practice positioned about the demands and conflicts of contemporaneity and of the future? What is the role of art and of the artists, in your opinion, in the context of the society and community in which they lives and works?
I did not grow up in a proud Mexican-American family. My family assimilated as much as possible, with my nana (Mexican slang for grandma) putting it plainly, “Mija (Mexican slang for daughter) we aren’t Mexican, we are American.” I still feel my current work isn’t representing that side of myself. In my work going forward, I plan on finding a bridge between the work I make around the female experience and my experience as a biracial individual living in America. I view my identity as a middle ground for cultural intersection and the trajectory of my work to be reflective of that, with fiber and language in tandem with one another. As vehicles of emergence, their use straddles the lines of race, gender, culture, and wealth. It is universally worn and used, no matter one’s background. They have paved the way for civilization and industry—both “good” and “bad”—and I believe with it, can be an article of healing and change. I do think it is completely up to the artist if they should use their work to comment on social or cultural issues/topics, but for me, my work will always be tackling social or cultural issues in some way.
Chuning Kelly, STRAPPY NO-SHOW CHEEKSTER 01. Copyright Chuning Kelly
What is the genesis of your projects – how are they born and how do they take shape?
Every piece starts from phrases in my journal or iPhone notes. I want my work to be honest and I think it’s important to recognize that the words I am felting in wool have actually been said to me at various moments throughout my life. I don’t make these words up and I don’t use other womens’ experiences. It is important to keep my work authentic to my own experience.
How does the public relate to your works? What is the reaction and feedback to them?
Though I consider my work autobiographical, the words I am felting in wool were not only said to me, but to many other women as well—highlighting the collective experiences of women. Ultimately, I want people to think about the words they say and the power they hold, starting a larger commentary around language and its effects on identity.
What are you working on right now? Do you have a project that you would like to be able to work on and that you have not yet been able to carry out?
I will always work on pieces for the series ‘It’s All Just Talk’, as I plan on continuing this body of work throughout my life, but I am also working on a series titled, ‘These thoughts, I carry’ where I am questioning internal dialogue surrounding my own identity and internalized sexism. They are large scale, grey felted pieces with white lettering. In response to work I would like to make but have not been able to yet, I would love to create a permanent installation where I felt an entire wall or a whole room.