Prizm News / March 1, 2019 / By Staley Munroe
The Columbus artist and educator has long addressed social themes in her work. Now she uses a bullhorn, too.
By Staley Munroe
For the majority of her career, Felicia DeRosa has approached social justice and activism through her art. Over 30-some-odd years, she has explored and reflected back themes such as gender roles, the body as it’s exploited in media and advertising, mental illness, homelessness, faith, addiction, self-destruction, and, from time to time, politics.
Since embracing her reality and coming out fully as a transwoman, though, DeRosa also has been called into more direct action. She’s a vocal board member of TransOhio and has co-organized the last three Transgender Day of Remembrance gatherings in Columbus. She has spoken on panels and offered training.
When the New York Times reported last fall on a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plan to define transgender people out of existence, the Columbus College of Art & Design instructor partnered with friend, transman and recent CCAD grad Clark Baker to stage a rally at the Statehouse and a protest March up High Street that drew more than 250 people.
“The trans community covers a wide, diverse spread of people and issues, from gender and racial equality, to employment and healthcare, to community service and public safety,” she says. “Moving forward, the trans community needs to unite, stand shoulder-to-shoulder and be louder, smarter and more articulate than the people who speak against us.”
But in order for there to be real change, DeRosa says, people outside the trans community—both within and outside the LGBTQAAI++ community—need to be reached. “Allies need to leverage their privilege,” she says.
How did you get your start?
I have been a professional, working artist since I was 12, when I was discovered by a local gallerist who included my ink-wash studies into my first group exhibition. I was that kid. I studied anything and everything anyone would teach me, exhibiting at least twice a year before eventually earning a BFA from the Academy of Art University (in San Francisco) in 1997.
During the following six years, I survived as an “artist-at-large,” eventually becoming an active, long-standing fixture of the West Coast underground and salon gallery scenes. I made my living on pop-inspired portraits and public murals.
In 2010, my wife, Gwen, and I relocated to Columbus, looking for grad programs and to be nearer to family. I started teaching at the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2013 and later graduated with my MFA.
I started my transition on Jan. 1, 2016, and got back to work in 2017.
This train don’t stop.
How has your trans identity influenced your work?
Transitioning takes a lot of energy and forward thinking. From the beginning, I’ve made a conscious effort to be self-aware and mindful, not just toward myself but to those around me.
I took a year off from art-making to allow for self-exploration and discovery. To be. To figure out what being authentic means to me.
This, in turn, has softened my work. It’s become more pensive, freer. It’s less about control and more about release. My art is in transition, too.
What impact or themes do you hope your exhibits help viewers walk away with?
All I have ever wanted to do with my work is feel connected. To myself, to others—to something bigger than imagination.
In a sense, my work is about the fluidity of perception. I want people to see themselves as I do. To see me as I want to be seen.
To see ourselves in each other. In a word, empathy. My hope is that people walk away feeling like they have been included.
What is the most important aspect of your creative process?
Music, cheese puffs and maybe a touch of sleep deprivation?
What one piece of advice would you give to young queer visual artists hoping to “make it”?
Your story is your greatest gift. Don’t hold back.
Tell me about your role at CCAD and what you hope to impart to your students there.
I do my best to be the person I needed in my life when I was them.
What would success look like for you over the next year?
I don’t know. I’m quite happy living in the moment right now. Buy me a drink and ask me then.
What are your current projects, and what’s next for you?
I am currently exploring raw honesty by way of 100 large-scale, subtle neutral-toned figure studies.
A snapshot of humanity in a state of becoming.
That and more public art.
Staley Munroe is Prizm’s creative director. You can follow her on Instagram at @silverwindrider or contact her by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIND OUT MORE
Browse through Felicia DeRosa’s work, keep track of her exhibition plans and learn more about her at derosaart.com.
DeRosa is a board member of TransOhio, which provides services, education, support and advocacy for transgender Ohioans. Visit transohio.org or FB: TransOhio to learn more about the organization and the 11th Annual TransOhio Trans and Ally Symposium, scheduled for April 26-28 in Columbus.