Artist Leslie Fortuna Explores Identity And Her Surroundings
Leslie Fortuna is a Dominican / Puerto Rican artist from Brooklyn currently studying at NYU. Her visual work entails representing woman of color through various mediums. Though the work is inherently political, it is also filled wit and playfulness and a pervading sense of humanity that drips from the canvas. We sat down with her for an illuminating discussion on how issues surrounding identity and politics shape her Art.
How do you identify? What does an Afro-Latinx identity mean to you? How do you embody it?
Leslie: I identify as Afro-Latina, my mom and dad are Puerto Rican and Dominican respectively. To me, this means that I’m a Black Latina, two identities that are not mutually exclusive. I never realized this needed to be said until I began my journey of higher education. My identity is something I understood easily while growing up between a home in Santo Domingo, D.R. and an apartment in Brooklyn, NY. The way I was perceived by others is what shaped my initial understanding of my identity. I knew the world saw my brown skin first, so I knew that’s what I was, but it was also what everyone else I knew was, so it wasn’t a difficult thing. Entering college from this point forced me to classify myself in ways I had never felt the need to before, mostly because I was now having conversations about culture and my racial plight, in relation to whiteness. I understand Latinidad in ways I previously did not after learning about my history and also creating it in the present day. I feel I embody my identity by embracing who I am because of my ancestors. It’s important to me as Afro-Latina to assert that I am both Black and Latinx, neither one or the other, nor half and half. I never felt as though I had to choose one and I would never want to erase my blackness by doing so anyway.
How does identity politics and intersectionality intersect with your artistic practice?
Leslie: Firstly, for my art, I’ve always used myself and my surroundings for reference. I always felt I understood female anatomy better so I enjoyed drawing women and uplifting them with my work. As a plus-sized woman, I have always known what it’s like to feel excluded. Therefore, when practicing my art growing up I made the conscious decision to represent women like myself, and create art that beautifully captures women of all shapes and sizes. Racial inclusivity is also an important feature of my work. Like many other young, self-taught artists, my humble beginnings learning to draw consisted of mimicking a lot of Anime art styles. I quickly noticed that the subjects I was interested in portraying had very few appearances in these drawings. It’s rare to see a person of darker skin in an anime, and many in the art community unfortunately believe the style does not lend itself well to meaningfully capturing Afro-centric features (when it can!). Thus, my position in the artistic world being a plus-sized woman of color has influenced my work greatly. These aspects of myself are the parts that I want to reflect in my work, to normalize representing characters like me as the subjects of works of art as well as animated media.
What are some of the motifs that you have included in your most recent work?
Leslie: Overall my work tends to focus on the representation of women of color. Learning about art means studying a lot of white men who painted a lot of white women. So, I aim to portray the type of women I see in my own real life, the women who are beautiful to me regardless of weight, height, complexion, etc. I find that setting is becoming more important for me, as part of my goal to depict women who are like myself is to portray them in the environments I want my audience to view from my eyes. I want my art to capture the emotions that arise in the various situations Black women face on a regular basis. I love emphasizing the aesthetics of our spaces that are not typically glamorized (i.e. a Dominican hair salon) and really portraying the beauty that exists in our everyday experiences of these settings. I would say a motif I’ve made a point of incorporating into my work recently is the upliftment of dark skin. In light of the recent discourse on colorism in our community, I really want to celebrate dark complexions in my art and portray their beauty, as I believe this representation is something very important yet too often overlooked in many media forms. I hope to bring this representation into other forms of media as I continue my career.
How has the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests influenced your work?
Leslie: Firstly, the Black Lives Matter movement is inspiring to me in its fight for the support of other Black people, whether it be a business, a talent, an art form. The resurgence of the movement has firstly reminded me of my place in the artistic world as an Afro-Latinx artist. I’d like to eventually enter the animation field, which is one in which there are not many people like me. This has reminded me of why I wanted to enter this field in the first place, to represent people like myself who are not usually the main characters of their favorite shows or films. I think the media we consume, even animation, influences the way we think whether we believe so or not. The movement has also inspired me to use my art as a tool for my advocacy and has been a way to do my part using my skill. In order to raise money to support the movement, I’ve created work to sell online and donate the revenue from. I collaborated with other artists (Shirley Reynozo and Katherine Bencosme) in creating visuals for infographics about protest safety. Most recently, I created a portrait in tribute to the beautiful 19 year-old Oluwatoyin Salau (Rest in Power). I wanted to raise awareness about her case and continue to spread her message: that Black Lives Matter, we must fight for our Black women, and we must protect Black trans lives.
Apart from your activism art you have created in the last week, your work takes different forms and mediums. What mediums do you use? What does art curation mean to you? Are you aiming to represent your community, or are you aiming to hold a mirror to your community to talk about certain realities?
Leslie: 90 percent of the time, my medium is digital art, by way of pen tablet. The other 10 percent are pencil and paper sketchings I do when my tablet isn’t nearby. In terms of form and format, I have explored comic strip work in my efforts to really tell a story through my art. Art curation to me means displaying my truth, and while this means representing my community, it also means critiquing it in my portrayal of its reality. In my piece tackling gentrification, I reflected on the many changes that I personally noticed my childhood community had undergone. This helped raise awareness and incite discourse about the topic, which is important to me as it disproportionately affects low-income Black/Brown/Latinx communities such as mine.
You often depict women of color in your visual representations. In what ways do your different art forms serve to evoke different sentiments or purposes?
Leslie: Aside from portraiture, I have also used other art forms for different purposes. I’ve done cover artwork for Black musical artists and have helped create visual brand identities for small businesses owned by people of color. I think that while my work for some of these clients can evoke particular sentiments, my reasoning for taking on the task in the first place is primarily for the purpose of helping uplift other creatives and entrepreneurs of color. Knowing what I do about the glass ceiling that exists in the world of media for the voices of minorities, especially Black people, I feel a duty to do whatever I can to open opportunities for others like myself. This means working together and using my platform as best as I can.
How are you using your art to mobilize funding for different Black Lives Matter?
Leslie: I’ve recently created a piece in celebration of those the movement is fighting to protect. I’ve opened up a shop on RedBubble.com to sell merchandise with my drawing, including stickers, masks, pillows, and more. I am donating all proceeds from any items on my shop that feature my Black Lives Matter drawing to various bail funds, charities, and GoFundMe pages for victims of police brutality.
A CALL TO ACTION:
This post is a call to action to all my Black and Afro-Latinx artists, please keep creating. We are the generation that will set the foundation for this century’s evolution of Black consciousness and expression. The revolution is now, and we must all be engines of the cultural revolution so that we represent our essence and not the stereotypes of the racist patriarchy. This is not a light task. Be careful with yourselves. Self preservation is the greatest form of resistance. I am now accepting Black and Afro/Latinx diasporic works. I am also accepting work from any one who holds different identity backgrounds, and is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Submissions (works and an artist statement of purpose) can be emailed to Shirley Reynozo at firstname.lastname@example.org.