Serena Chopra

:: AGE

32

:: LOCATION

Denver, Colorado, USA & Bangalore, India

:: MEDIUM

Writing, dance, visual and performance art

:: IDENTIFIES AS

queer woman of color

As a womxn, why do you think it is important to create?

For me, it’s about needing to make art, feeling that my pulse requires it. For me to be fully in this world, in this life, I am called to create. I can make a change by offering different perspectives and opinions through my creativity. Womxn’s visibility is imperative in order to shift current detrimental ideologies of oppression and homogeneity. So if a womxn feels the pull towards creativity, then that should not be disregarded or left un-embodied. It’s tough to be a womxn artist, but the more support and space we can build for womxn’s ideas and perspectives, the more we can overcome dominant paradigms of systematic oppression of all kinds.

What has been your proudest moment as an artist/creative?

Having my books published, seeing my work in galleries, performing with other amazing dancers, reading with other amazing writers, collaborating with other artists to make a vision we had come to life. It’s an amazing feeling to incubate a piece of art  and find its manifestation, for all its flaws, can exist and does. And it’s even cooler when others interact with that art and you get to find a new relationship to the piece;  aside from making it, you get to observe it in the world.  

How do you define love?

Love is compassion, freedom, honesty and trust. I try to manifest these qualities toward my wife and family/friends, to myself and to my art.

What is the space that you like to create in?

I am always thinking about/working towards creation. I try to attend to each day, to listen with the goal of learning and interpreting a new way of seeing and being in the world. This part of creation is like gathering conceptual material and, often, language, words, lines or images I might use later. The second part of creation is making, and I am mostly in my personal space, with my books and supplies when I make. I really like having my cat around. So I guess I create both in the world and in my own world, and I try to relay this extension in my work.   

What do you like to listen to while you create?

When writing, I don’t add any sounds to what is occurring around me–nature, the domestic,  and street sounds. When dancing, we often have a musician or recorded music, but sometimes we move listening only to each other, our bodies and the room. When I make visual art, I listen to music or lectures or poems.  When directing and practicing for a performance piece, there is just the sound of talking through a scene, or whatever.

What is your earliest memory of making art?

I started dancing when I was 2. I was always making “collections” of drawings or little illustrated stories when I was young. In my memory, I was always feeling the need to make, and, as my mom worked nights and slept during the day, I would often spend time alone in my room making stuff, feeling content.

Do you have any words of advice for young womxn/artist/creators out there?

Fake it til you make it: Do what drives you, and do it without apology or judgement; one day it will just be the thing you do, and you’ll have the confidence to do it your way.
Accept failure as a necessity, as the most imperative, part of your journey: failure makes you humble, keeps you learning, and gives you the emotional space it takes to grow as an artist. Failure is a part of risk and without risk, you can’t grow as a n artist. The more you accept failure, the less painful and disruptive it becomes. It happens, so fail and fail again and be reborn of your failures.
Support artists around you and collaborate with them: being involved in your local art scene not only gives you a chance to make friends and network, it also allows you to discover what really excites you as an artist and brings new insight and challenges to your own work. If there is a particular artist you like, try to collaborate with her/him/them and challenge yourself to make something you might have never thought of otherwise.

What social issues do you care about most?

Well, everything is so interconnected, so it’s hard to mention just one. But often my social critique begins with systematic inequalities such as racism, sexism, homophobia and classism. And, as a professor of creative writing, I see many of these issues emanating in the foundations of education, so I often look to education as the source of greater social inequalities. I am also currently working in India with queer women, and am interested in their invisibility. I am interested in how they use their invisibility to live freely (i.e. under the radar) and how it is detrimental to them. I am also interested in how queer women build networks of communion/communication through/despite their invisibility. This project also extends further than these women’s sexuality, it moves into their class, religion and status as women. I guess, I often chose a point, any point, to begin caring, and find that the social issues arising from a single point are infinite, and many paths can be made towards change.   

What could you not live without?

My wife, sunshine, dance clubs, great expanses of nature, animals (esp. cats), books, films, music, dance, art and artists, crystals, comfy clothes, late nights, families (my queer family, artist family and actual family).  

How do you make time to create?

I create a nest for my creative space and I don’t let anything intrude on it. I know the time I need to create in, which is a broad expanse of hours, undisturbed, and so I make that space for myself each week, sometimes twice a week, if possible. And I never judge myself in that space. I only create the work, whether it be generating new poems, reading/researching, drawing, or whatever I am called to do. I worry about editing/honing later, and use my creative time to express and make freely. I also try to be involved in creative projects and collaborations that matter to me, so I am being creative as part of my daily responsibilities. I am part of a dance company and a poet’s theater group, and rehearsal schedules create mandatory creative times. I also collaborate with other artists and for that kind of commitment it is imperative that I am prepared before and after we meet, so I have to make time to for these things. Collaboration keeps me involved and interacting with the art community and allows me to create in many different ways throughout the day, week, month, year.

How does your mental health affect your work?

Stress can block me creatively. When I am overthinking things or have to attend to too many real world things, I get stuck in my work and my anxiety prevents my ability to work with ease and authenticity.  I work well, creatively, under pressure, and can work for long stretches of time, though this can sometimes cause me to get depressed soon after and then it takes me a few days or weeks to recover. This kind of work pattern can also cause me to be cranky, which creates more stress in my interpersonal relationships, which can then negatively affect my creation. So I try to keep balanced and healthy work patterns and avoid frequent manic bouts of creativity. But if mania appears and I have the time/space for it, I’ll usually take it, and try to be patient with myself as I recover.  

Who are your influences/inspirations?

Too many to mention here, but definitely all of the artists in my community. Denver is an impressive place. Check out Selah Saterstrom, Sommer Browning, Mathias Svalina and Julie Carr, to name just a few.  
I am generally inspired/impressed by Anne Carson, Mina Loy, HD, Gertrude Stein, Pina Bausch, Meredith Monk, George Oppen, Fred Moten, Townes Van Zandt, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Beyonce, Helen Cixous, Djuina Barnes and Lisa Robertson. There are so many more, this list feels inadequate.

What message do you want to spread with your art?

I try to focus on different ideas or conceptual sets in each of my projects. Each book, drawing or performance piece will come from a different mental and emotional space, and so I don’t believe there is a single message that all of my pieces proliferate. However, the message I hope to spread with  the actual making of work is that it is still possible to be an artist today…and not only possible, but imperative. Also, it is possible to be an artist in many genres/mediums, and can actually be quite useful to have a practice where you are always making, despite feeling burnt out in one medium or another. And finally, I hope that by making art I am showing that it is important for typically marginalized individuals, queers, womxn, minority races/classes, to make art. Our world is thirsting for new imaginations and new ways of seeing.    

From dancing to writing, Serena encourages us to try more ways of expressing ourselves. Her activism through visual storytelling ignites us to adventure further with our work. Much love to you Serena for sharing your multidimensional perspective with us. We are so honored and would love to collaborate with you some day.