We had the good fortune of connecting with Leonie Castelino and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Leonie, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I was in Strategic Planning and Business Development in Corporate America. I was one of the early female MBAs, with a hard earned high executive position, when as a young mother, I was unexpectedly caught in the same dilemma as many working moms are today. This lockdown in the Pandemic of 2020 is forcing working mothers to prioritize and make life altering career decisions. Art saved my sanity when I gave up my career, income and identity. Studying the lost textile arts of Japan, over a decade, exposed me to extraordinary artists. The standards were so high. I was in awe. They risked all to their art. I joined professional textile organizations, and was invited to exhibit, but I didn’t dare. I was terrified of rejection and failure. In 2002, I was shocked when a renowned artist challenged me with a solo exhibition. I had a year to create work. It was akin to dancing naked in the village square. She had risked her reputation with her belief in me. To aspire to be the best, risk is implicit in taking that first plunge, I accepted. Because I could. I was financially secure as my husband was supportive. It changed the trajectory of my life.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Textile art is renowned as fine art and revered in Japan, China, Korea, as well as, in Europe. The US has lagged behind, as our culture, a relatively new one, regards textiles as functional, such as quilts. If they were decorative, then they were crafts. I believe my work is fine art – from my very first painting with gutta and dye on silk. I was told that if the medium was paper or canvas, it would have been considered in the fine art category. So, strategically, I exhibit primarily in international museums and participate in internationally renowned juried fiber art shows to establish this identity. My first international solo exhibition with 32 works of art in contemporary shibori, rozome and bojagi with hangings and sculptures was in 2008 at the UCT Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town, South Africa. I exhibited my first installation in Bojagi, a narrative, in 2014 at the Korea Bojagi Forum in Jeju Island, South Korea – an “Homage to the Haenyeo” of Jeju, referred to as the ‘Grannies of the Sea’. Metaphorically, it is a celebration of the strength of the unsung glory of the feminine. Unconsciously my work was evolving into 3-D hangings that were suspended and ethereally floated. The first in bojagi was at the Suwon Museum in 2016. It gave birth to my “Cocoon” and “Dance” sculptures, which I presented in 2018, at a solo exhibition at the SETEC Convention Center in Seoul. This second installation was my first social commentary on the missing girls in China and India who were aborted because of their gender, or killed just after birth. ‘A Dream in a Dream in a Dream on Wings’ celebrates the right of girls to live, dream and have goals to reach for the stars. The ‘Cocoon of Power’ emerged as the central focus with statements of achievement of 21 women from 11 countries on four continents. This resonated. It was inspirational. In 2016, the Haenyeo, women divers for seafood, the living legends of Jeju Island, South Korea, were recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage to Humanity. In 2018, Chojun Quilt Art and Textile Museum in Seoul, exhibited my Installation, Homage to Haenyeo, in a Solo Show. A few months later in 2018, as an Honored Artist, I exhibited it at the Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing, China. In the solo exhibition, ‘A Dance in a Dance in a Dance on Wings’ in 2019, my ethereal Bojagi Sculptures came alive. They floated and danced with the wind on Mobiles. It was an exhortation to girls: ” Dream, Dance, and Determine your Destiny”. One of the Dance sculptures is on a four-year Traveling Exhibition. Risk surfaced in mid-2020 with a collaboration with photographer, Dustan Osborn, who found my work online. Serendipity too surfaced with an invitation to me to submit work on ‘The Effect of the Pandemic on the destiny of Humanity’. Our 90 x80” diptych, ‘The Empty City and Caged Bird’ is in the 11th International Fiberart Biennale, FROM LAUSANNE TO BEIJING’ Exhibition, opening online on December 20, 2021. It is on exhibit currently at The Hammond Museum Virtual Gallery, www.hammondmuseum.org/november-2020-virtual-exhibition. The Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden, has invited us to present a Solo Virtual Exhibition in September 2021. As I noted earlier, the trajectory of my life changed as my circumstances prevented me from being a business executive and a working mom. The Pandemic has negatively impacted women disproportionately. I understand their pain. Careers of mothers, especially women in low income service jobs and minorities, together with their children are sliding into poverty as their livelihoods have disappeared overnight with the lockdown. Gender pay inequality is now exacerbated as the setbacks are monumental for women. Our collaborators have expanded to include Dr. Esmeralda Lyn, Professor Emerita of Finance from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: www.IWPR.org, and sculptor, Irene Osborn, www.IreneOsbornSculpture.com, who describes her work as insights into the human condition. Bibiana Huang Matheis, www.bibiphoto.com, is our invited guest to contribute from her Heart series. I hope our work will resonate with men and women around the world, conversations, dialogue and understanding will change attitudes, and perhaps laws enacted, as people recognize that when the value of each of us is recognized, the output is a society with depth of compassion and unity.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love art, I I love architecture, I love food, and the electricity of this paradise in the sun. So a mix of this will include fish tacos on Venice Beach! LA has every authentic cuisine under the sun, so dining in different neighborhoods and of course sushi. Attending a concert at The Walt Disney Concert Hall, an iconic architectural marvel of Frank Gehry, ranked as one of the best in the world would be a highlight. A backstage tour before attending the concert is a must. The beauty of the design of this structure is stunning in its organic forms and its changing color with the movement of the sun always makes me pause. The Getty Center and Getty Villa. The experience is unforgettable, including the ride to the top. The panoramic views from there are breathtaking. The Art district reflects the uniqueness of this city, which can also be gritty.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Cornelia Baker, internationally renowned printmaker, juried me in for my first solo exhibition in 2003. She taught me how to hang, publicize and present a sophisticated professional show. I exhibited 32 works of art in shibori, rozome, felt hangings and paintings with dye and gutta. Kiyoko Sakai, a painter, a stranger to me, proposed another solo show in 2004. In 2006 I was introduced to Bojagi, an ancient and dying Korean art form, by Chunghie Lee, a visionary and founder of the international Korea Bojagi Forum. And here, I found my metier to express myself in the art of Bojagi. At Chunghie Lee’s invitation to exhibit internationally, solo or with groups from 2007 to the present, I was relentlessly challenged. It took not only total dedication and focus to find my signature in my art, but the opportunity to exhibit competitively in international shows, as well as, no limitation on size of work. This was instrumental in my imagination flying high. In 2013, Professor Anna-Maria Orban from Academia Romana referred to me as an influential artist in Bojagi in her treatise on Cultural Identity in Fiber Art. In 2014, Chunghie Lee included my work in Designing for Bojagi, in her book, ‘Bojagi and Beyond; and in the UK, Linda Seward, selected my works to represent Bojagi in her 2014 book, ‘The Ultimate Guide to Quilting’, Techniques from around the world. I found my passion and was unaware that I was breaking traditional boundaries with every work of art. I am a Contemporary Bojagi Fiber Artist. I was overwhelmed to discover that Sara Cook in her 2018 book, Bojagi, referred to me as one of the three influential artists in Bojagi in the 20th Century. Good photography is essential in presenting art to jurors and the public. I was fortunate to meet Bibiana Huang Matheis, who not only photographed my work, but as a Curator, she provided me with opportunities to expand my creativity and imagination in group and solo exhibitions. I am indebted to these women for their belief in me, support, mentorship, opportunity to experiment and exhibit, and recognition of the small steps in my growth as an artist. Love takes many different forms. Without a doubt, this is it.
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Bibiana Huang Matheis