Power in Nuance: Cheyenne Julien

When art reflects the experiences of the artist, it presents a true and authentic representation of the character of the artist; the struggles they faced growing up and becoming an artist, the strength of their character, and the vulnerability of the artist in sharing their struggles and hardships in such a confrontational manner. 

Cheyenne Julien is not hesitant in sharing her story. Her gestural work, which does not come from reality but presents exaggerated, dreamlike figures, explicitly depicts her own experiences growing up and living in the Bronx. These painted figures grapple with prejudices that have been inflicted on her for her race. 

The expression of each figure clarifies the narrative being presented. Some subjects pang with nervous energy, some are joyous, others reel in anxiety. Each figure creates a thoughtful narrative of Julien’s experiences.

“My work is based on personal narratives. Race is something that is inherent in all of my paintings, but some works represent it more overtly than others. I think there is power in clarity, and I also think there’s power in nuance.” 

Her work explores issues surrounding race as they arise in our own community. Racism is built into our surroundings and environment, in many contexts that we overlook. “Environmental racism” is the centerpiece of her work; how racism comes up in our daily lives via architecture and design. 

“Growing up in The Bronx, the sidewalks and streets were our playground. As a child, my dad would often take my brother and me to play in the nicer parks of Manhattan. From a young age, I realized that these parks were meant for white children. I quickly learned to find the beauty I longed for in the place where I lived – in the flowers that sprouted through the cracks of the sidewalk.”

Spaces are manipulated and conceived as being privileged to certain individuals. Race can manifest in various realms: language, psyche and social structure, and in curated surrounding and spaces. “Racism is not only present in people, but also physically built into the structures of our landscapes.:

Julien’s cartoon-like figures bear much more than comedy. The expressions of each figure clearly represent the story of an individual or many individuals who face prejudice from their surroundings. In what ways have we all unconsciously inflicted racism on another individual?

All artwork copyright the artist. Learn more: Cheyenne Julien.

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