Artist Interview: Leila Weefur

What is the significance of your chosen materials–crayons, clay, paints, boxes, and twine?

Crayons, clay, and paints are materials that are manufactured in a range of colors that often serve to represent skin tones. When a child is drawing a person, they have to choose the crayon or the paint that best represents how they perceive someone’s skin color. We use these materials for creative expression and are unconsciously engaged in a process of selection and labeling. 

The box is significant because it references the idea of categorization, or putting people in a figurative “box”. The notion of our identities being confined to a constructed four-sided object is uncomfortable to imagine.

The twine rope has a long history in how it has been used in the scope of racism. Rope is used to bind, hang, and constrain so the presence in my work is a metaphor for an oppressive system.

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How has your personal experience influenced the exploration of cultural identity within your artwork?

My awareness of the division within my own cultural identity of being Black American and Liberian has been the catalyst in my investigation of how categories and labels create division. I’m interested in the fact that many people can relate to having cultural diversity in their family and yet there is an existing social pressure to identify with a specific culture or label based on racial constructs. 

How do you hope viewers engage with your work, and what do you hope they take away?

I would like to give people a comfortable space in which to discuss race, using beautiful imagery as an entry point to talk about something uncomfortable. With each piece, my intention is to raise a question that encourages a dialogue, whether that dialogue is internal and introspective or is pushed out into the community. It’s difficult for me to simplify the artistic experience because I hope every viewer walks away with lingering thoughts and reflection on the work.


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How will the Jack and Gertrude Murphy Fellowships and the Edwin Anthony and Adelaine Bourdeaux Cadogan Scholarships Awards, administered by The San Francisco Foundation, and the accompanying exhibition support your work and future artistic development?

The exhibition has given my work a life outside of the studio and has provided the space for this conversation to extend into the community.

Leila Weefur is an artist who currently works and lives in Oakland, CA. Leila is currently a Studio Art MFA candidate at Mills College. She received her BA in TV, Film, and Media Studies from California State University, Los Angeles in 2012. Her work has shown in galleries in San Francisco and New York and her videos have screened in film festivals in LA and the Bay Area.

About the Interviewer
Carolina Quintanilla serves as Interim Gallery Creative Partnerships Manager for SOMArts Cultural Center. She is a graduate of California State University, Northridge where she received her B.A. in Asian American Studies and is currently an MA student in the Ethnic Studies department at San Francisco State University.

Weefur’s artwork is on view September 3–26, 2015, at SOMArts Cultural Center, as part of The TSFF & SOMArts Annual Murphy & Cadogan Contemporary Art Awards Exhibition. To learn more about the exhibition, click here.

Images top to bottom: Is This How It Happened?, 2015, photo by J. Astra Brinkmann; Coloring the Question, 2015, image courtesy the artist; Is This How It Happened?, 2015, image courtesy the artist