In a society where women are often sexualized, Chelsea van der Bend decided to dedicate her work to her queer sexuality. With her drawings, she empowers intimacy between women in society, far away from the male gaze, which is still so present today.
Soft fabrics, such as felt or flannel, are her drawings' surfaces. Besides the fact that the fabrics make you want to touch the portrayed women, textile is a product that has played an important role in women’s history. The drawings are mostly inspired by images from the porn industry. For van der Bend, it is essential that the references she chooses are based on how real and authentic the video is, and most importantly, that it is relatable.
By depicting mainly body parts and no faces, piercings, or tattoos, she gives the bodies a more universal meaning. Her work is a plea for loving one's own and each other’s bodies but above all challenges the fetishized image that currently surrounds lesbian identity.
Text: Hagar Schuringa
I make intimate drawings on soft textile, like felt or flannel, in which the focus is always on the female nude. The texture of the fabric makes you want to touch the drawing, which makes for some sort of sexual tension, but it also makes the drawing almost tangible.
My starting point is the visual translation of my perspective on my own sexuality, and from there, on the queer, female sexuality. I am voicing my admiration for women in the most direct way I can think of, and make every choice in my process based on that love. This unconditional appreciation of the female form is inherently feminist, which is consistent with my activistic views that are inevitably showing through in my work.
I use references that I found in pornography, but my work is not about the sex industry. I pick the references based on how realistic the video is, on how authentic it is and mostly, on relatability. So long as the intimacy on screen matches my own experiences, and the video is made by women, for women, it’s a valid source for my work.
Anonymity is an important aspect in my work. The more universal the bodies in my drawings are, the more (queer) women can recognize themselves in my work. Because of this, I always crop out at least a part of the face and leave out tattoos and piercings. I do, however, enjoy putting my own moles and birthmarks on the bodies, as it is a way for me to portray the bodies as if they were my own. It almost becomes a self-portrait, a visual extension of my perspective. The bodies, the people in my work, are a vessel for the expression of a different way of loving. For the loving of your own body, but also the love for being queer.
I strive to achieve a soft protesting voice against the loud, fetishizing image that currently exists on being a lesbian.
I would love to make a living doing what I love, which of course means making art! Ideally I would be traveling around the world to show my work and be an established artist by then. All the time I wouldn't spend doing that, you would find me in my sunlit studio, surrounded by artist-friends.
Learned during the studies
The most valuable thing that I learnt during my time at the HKU, would be to trust my own instincts regarding my work. Ever since I started following my gut, and most importantly, taking the steps that seemed most exciting, my practice has grown immensely. I learnt that advice is just that: advice, which means that you can choose if it's useful or not. After my time at HKU, I feel like I can definitely trust my own instincts.
List of publications / exhibitions / prices / concerts / shows etc.
Solo Show - De Kargadoor, Utrecht, December 2021
Duo show: 'Intiem: Viva La Vulva' (FAAM) - GGD Stadskantoor, Utrecht, January - April 2022
Group show: 'P.ART' - De Gehoorzaal, Den Dolder, February - March 2022
Group show: 'Reflexions' - Boijmans van Beuningen instagram show, April 2022 - ongoing
Solo show: 'Queer Intimacy' - De Zware Jongens, Utrecht, June 2022
Publication: 'Queer Collective Magazine' Edition #2, Erasmus University Queer Collective, June 2023
Publication: 'Dyke Magic' poetry zine, Parel Joy, June 2023