By Nia Centre, p
Posted on June 9, 2022
“I’m a person who has both an analytical and creative mind,” says lens-based media artist Roya DelSol. “A lot of the work I do is grounded in technology, so I’m always bridging the two. In working with tech, that practice is analytical: it’s process and pattern based. But it’s also deeply intuitive and conceptual.”
A quick scroll through Roya’s instagram reveals an artist committed to reflecting a real vibrancy back onto the people she captures. In each portrait, her subjects appear illuminated and powerful. They command the viewer to stop and take notice. This is no accident. Over a zoom call, Roya makes it clear that during the creative process, her primary focus is to make art that allows both the subject and the viewer to feel good about themselves.
Raised in Ajax, Ontario, Roya’s desire to create art was present from an early age. She admits that, for much of her youth, she held herself back from active pursuit of her own creativity. “My sister is an amazing painter, and growing up I always thought ‘well I’m not interested in art because I can’t do that’” Roya says. “It wasn’t until I found out that you could make things through a computer that I was like ‘OH’”.
Still, as a youth, Roya searched for visual stories all around her. A self-professed fashion girl: she collected the March and September issues of fashion magazines, religiously. “I would buy the issues and plaster them all over my room. I used to think I just loved the idea of fashion" she explains. "But now I recognize that what I was really interested in was the narrative, the fantasy and the worldbuilding of it all.” From there, she began experimenting with video editing: playing around with images to create a world that reflected her own unique style.
At Nia Centre, we always say that there is no singular pathway to becoming an artist. Roya’s journey is proof of that. Before cementing herself as an artist, she pursued an education in science. When asked how the two fields compare, she says “the goal in science is to be niche, to become the professor that everyone knows to go to for something." She continues: " as an artist, you might have a through line in your practice, but what is compelling to me is that there is so much room and push for play and exploration.”
Experimentation is an essential part of the creative process. The concept of play is expansive in Roya’s artwork, most noticeable in the way that she plays with the idea of ‘safe space’. Many of those who appear in front of her lens are Black femmes and non-binary people of color. These are groups who, historically, have appeared in mainstream media in ways that emphasize hyper-sexuality and violence. In Roya’s work, those in front of the lens appear candid and vulnerable in their expressions, free from any assumptions coming from behind the camera.
In her Boudoir Series from 2021, Black and Brown femmes and non-binary people appear in lingerie, against backdrops of moody, luscious reds and blacks. These images transcend past projected notions of what sexuality looks like for Black women and Queer people of color. Instead, Roya uses boudoir to create new, embodied definitions of what attraction and power mean. In a similar vein, Roya’s maternity photoshoot with fellow artist Jorian Charlton uses a darker, moodier palette to envision a different kind of motherhood in the 2020s. These works are an encapsulation of Roya’s driving mission as an artist. Candidly, she tells us, beaming: “My work comes from a place of wanting people to feel good. Portraiture is like 80% the energy that you are working with and 20% the technical set up. I want everyone I work with to feel like a bad b*tch”. In Roya’s digital world, you are safe to be your baddest self.
Creating safe spaces for people is a practice that requires wholescale commitment. Roya’s journey in Toronto’s art scene has been just as committed to that practice in real life as it has behind the camera. For many years, she worked as an arts advocate: actively creating environments where artists could access resources and support. “There are so many talented people out there who don’t have the material resources to get things done. Whether that's the resources to buy materials or the resources that allow them to free up time to create art. It’s hard to dream when you are worried about making it day to day.” In a city like Toronto, where so many artists live on the margins, this kind of work is essential labor.
“There’s a - very white, very Western - stereotype of artists being ego-driven and narcissistic”, Roya says, as our call closes. “ And I think that that’s a colonial way of viewing things. When you have no struggles, your work will seem narcissistic. But for marginalized people, the ability to express yourself, or talk about your trauma or even NOT talk about your trauma, and just dream of a fantasy world you want to see…that has real impact”.
While we wait on a world that is ready for an artist like Roya, you can find her busy at work in Toronto. Her latest curatorial work BLACK_BOX is currently exhibiting through virtual platforms. BLACK_BOX is a hybrid physical / virtual reality exhibition and speculative project that considers archives, art spaces and art making as a means of knowledge transfer and preservation. Roya also works with Nia Centre as a mentor and facilitator in our Creative Connect program.
You can find Roya commanding digital space at @royadelsol on social media.
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