Krystle Lemonias (Jamaican, b. 1989) is an interdisciplinary visual artist, labor activist, and art educator. She had a solo exhibition, Yu cyaan ketch Quaku, yu ketch im shut with Andrew Rafacz Gallery, and has been exhibited at Blum and Poe in the Show Me the Signs exhibition for #sayhername campaign. Her work has been shown in the Hindsight 2020: A Year Later at the Polk Museum of Art and in the Make America What America Must Become exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans. Lemonias creates work with numerous skill sets. She is primarily influenced by her research on social class privilege, citizenship, labor rights, and how economic inequality affects Black communities.
Found materials, fabric, and iconography are used to communicate these themes. She sees her work as a tool to encourage this population’s education of Black immigrant cultural identity and its connection to the broader diaspora. She acquired a BFA in printmaking from New Jersey City University in 2018 and an MFA in 2022 from the University of South Florida.
How did you get into making art?
I’m Jamaican-born, where I spent my formative years, and which has been an immense influence. I distinctly remember in 6th grade, in Jamaica, my artwork was presented to the principal. My art teacher shared with her to highlight that I had been excelling in his art class. She asked me what profession I wanted to do as an adult and I declared, “I am going to be an artist.” I believe in saying it out loud and not being discouraged. This inspired me to take this path to be an artist along with a constant urge to make things with my hands.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a series of works, Krys and the Gigs, which are fiber paintings from my perspective and at times selfies of myself working as a nanny and dogsitter in the past.
The series centers on the care work experiences I have had and addresses various negotiations I made throughout the work day while celebrating the memories I have made on the job. I believe I was able to avoid most exploitive working conditions by code-switching and reflecting passive-aggressive behaviors experienced when necessary which I learned from watching my mother work as a nanny. There is an ongoing toggle of who has the power in these fiber works. Is it solely the employer or is it shared with the care worker? I also question what equitable care labor looks like.
What inspired you to get started on this body of work?
This work began from being inspired by immigrant black women like my mother and myself who has worked as domestic laborer. This exploration as artwork began when after leaving home to go to graduate school my relationship with my mother became strained. In my reflection of the situation, I found most of our connection was built around nanny work, something we no longer share. I recognized that despite our disagreements on many things I value her work ethic, resilience through challenges on the job, and dedication to providing for her family. My past works in fiber celebrate these characteristics of my mother and women who do care work.
Conceptually, I’m using baby clothes sourced from the family whose children my mother once cared for and have deconstructed them into compositions as a type of representational resistance she has displayed in her work environments. I have used various configuration tactics to exhibit how one would advocate for oneself on the job. Each piece shares different moments one would navigate during their work.
Do you work on distinct projects or do you take a broader approach to your practice?
I have streams of thought that start as sketches and writing in my sketchbook a portion is then developed into full-sized works. I usually have more than two series of work being made at a time that I jump back and forth on.
What’s a typical day like in your studio?
My typical studio day in the studio starts at about noon and often ends at 10 pm, breaking to have dinner for about an hour. I get in the studio 3 days a week. I usually have a schedule for the week as to what part of the work I will be focusing on to have some sense of accomplishment at the end of each session. My work is very laborious and can feel as if it will never end so I give myself checkpoints to measure my progress. Some days are dedicated to cutting and pinning fabric and another is devoted to sewing the fabric in place.
Who are your favorite artists?
Last weekend I went to NYC to see what was showing in Chelsea and came across some really clever and experimental work. I saw an exhibition with ceramic work by Jen Deluna and paintings by Will Watson.
I also love the works on paper by my friend, Khari Johnson Ricks. Other artists work I adore are Deborah Jack, Derrick Adams, Nick Cave, and Allana Clarke. I am very impressed by the work of these artists and many others who continue to inspire me in my practice.
Where do you go to discover new artists?
I discover new artists mostly on Instagram and in artist books that I purchase. However, there is nothing more thrilling than seeing new work in a museum or gallery space. I discover new artists like this often as well.
Learn more about the artist by visiting the following links:
Krystle Lemonias is participating in the exhibition, “Despite the Spoils” at the Paul Robeson Gallery Rutgers Newark, curated by Armisey Smith.
Duration: Sep 05, 2023 – Oct 26, 2023
Exhibition Description from Paul Robeson Galleries:
Part of the series “An Invisible City (Newark)”
This is the first exhibition in an interdisciplinary, multi-year project focusing on collaborations with individuals to bring to light new knowledge about the city of Newark, and to tell many stories about this place. This project is centered around 25,000 artifacts that were excavated from a city block in a historic part of Newark which is now part of the Rutgers Campus (bordered by Washington, Halsey, New, and Linden Streets).
Curator Armisey Smith states, “This exhibition features artifacts based on uncovered remnants likely subject to complete decay but has survived despite environmental stressors. The artists and artwork selected for the Despite the Spoils exhibit amplify the resilience of women under constant assault by external factors and political factions.”
For more information about the exhibition click here.
The interview was first published in hopperprize.org