Artist Profile: Lisette Chavez / by Helen Grant

Writer: Helen Grant

San Antonio print artist Lisette Chavez makes her Oklahoma debut with a presentation of "Cafeteria Catholic", a printmaking-based installation exploring her relationship to the religion she grew up with and has wrestled with her entire life. 


Artist Show Statement:

"A Cafeteria Catholic is an individual who selects which faith or moral teachings best suit their lifestyle at a given time……

I don’t always believe in God, I forever question my faith. Rather than leaving religion altogether, I pick and choose Catholic teachings that interest me and suit my lifestyle.  In my youth I was taught to suppress my ideas, not to draw attention to myself, not to date boys and never told about “the birds and the bees.” Because of my strict Catholic upbringing, accepting my thoughts and being myself is a constant battle. 

Within this body of work, I simulate the memory of my mother hiding my artwork with bath towels.  When confronted, she explained that she did not want to see the drawings because they scared her. The white fabric is symbolic of purity, and acts as a veil to hide shameful thoughts from the judgment of others. Hand-drawn images imply the struggle between good and evil. It is an attempt to leave the suppression of living in a conservative Catholic family and expose imperfection and impure thoughts."

Artist Question and Answers:

Q. I'm intrigued by the story of your mother hiding your art work. Were you living at home or did she do this when visiting you in your own home, and has she had a chance to view "Cafeteria Catholic" for herself and what does she think of it if she has seen it? 

A. She’s done this twice. The first time I was in graduate school and my mother came to visit me for a few days. I walked through the front door and saw that my hot pink bath towels were draped over my artwork hung throughout MY apartment. My initial reaction was to get upset and yell. After the shock wore off I laughed hysterically and wasn’t really surprised. 

I don’t know how to use a sewing machine so sometimes I ask my mother to help me with projects. For this particular installation she helped me sew the veils. The first time she helped me make them she asked what I was going to do with the veils. I told her I was going to use them to hide some of my drawings. She asked why and I told her, “It reminds me of the time that you covered my artwork because you thought it was ugly.” To which she replied, “ I didn’t cover it because I thought it was ugly, I covered it because it scared me.” In a way it was sort of sweet that we came to an understanding of one another’s perspectives. 

My family doesn’t attend my art exhibits. They’ve never felt comfortable in that type of setting so I stopped asking a long time ago. 

Q. What teachings have you embraced in your quest to be yourself? And does sharing this show feel like making a confession? 

A. I lied at my first confession when I was 8 years old. I often carry a lot of guilt because of that memory so I try to be as truthful as possible. It’s sad to think that at that age I was already concerned with being judged by others. 

I think about religion and how it forces people to carry “fronts” that can be damaging to one’s self. In most of my bodies of work I am revealing truths so yes, this work is a confession. The veils help hide drawings that make me uneasy to share with others. They’re interactive and seductive. You can see the drawings slightly through the veils but if you want to see more you have to participate. 

Q. Do the hand-drawn images wrestle with the idea of Original Sin? The examples of "Cafeteria Catholic " on your website made me curious as there's a baby with small horns and then a Jesus figure looking extra perforated and thus pained. It's where my mind went first, but if I'm totally off, what Catholic-influenced Good vs Evil struggles do they represent? 

A. The Devil baby is a reoccurring theme in my work, sort of a self-portrait. I was always in trouble for speaking my mind. When living in a religious home, ideas and actions are non-negotiable. It’s black or white, you’re right or wrong. 

Q: Do you see people hesitate to lift the veils as if they're doing something they're not sure they should be doing or not? 

A: Some are more inclined to ask for forgiveness than for permission, those lift the veil. Others look around and ask for permission first. 

Q: What kinds of books, music, art/artist, or future art events are you excited about lately and why? 

A: Right now I’m reading and old favorite, "Rosemary’s Baby." I’m currently listening to a cholo-goth duo named Prayers. I’m excited about the new Kali Uchis’ album. This summer I’ll be included in the Young Latino Artists 23 exhibition. It’s an annual exhibition at the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, Texas that highlights young Latinx artists. 

The public viewing of "Cafeteria Catholic" at Resonator runs from 8 p.m. - 11 p.m, Friday April 13, 2018. See our Facebook event page for more details.