Natural light and wafting incense, works of art and elements of nature shape the space of Jasmine Dillavou’s studio in downtown Colorado Springs.
Jasmine, 25, works full-tilt within the creative life. As a full-time henna artist at La Henna Boheme in downtown Manitou Springs. As a contemporary artist with an interdisciplinary vision that moves across performance, installation, sculpture and writing. And as a voice that is active and strong in the regional arts community.
Jasmine shares with Humanitou about her experiences living in the Caribbean diaspora and about the tipping point when she recognized she felt the fire to stand up and become an artivist.
We talk about what space really means, in its broader senses, for artists and each other. Politics, the power of performance, love and accountability. We cover a lot of meaningful ground that lights that fire Jasmine shares.
Humanitou: You’re very engaged in the arts community, well beyond your personal work. What is the importance there for you? Is it social, functional …
Jasmine: Growing up in the scene has shown me we are a constant work in progress. There’s so much work to be done in our town artistically and socially and culturally. I want to be part of that.
Our city’s amazing, but we have a lot of work to do and it takes a lot of volunteer time, and a lot of late nights, and a lot of helping hands, and a lot of engaging with the community.
We can sit back and enjoy the spaces that we have and participate in spaces that already exist, or we can push every space and hold every space accountable and make it even stronger, and even more beautiful, and even more cutting edge.
Our arts scene is growing incredibly fast. It’s amazing. And there are artists coming out of the woodworks that have been making art for tons of years, but they haven’t had a chance to exhibit or really express themselves properly.
It’s trying to give them a chance to do that, which I think is an incredible opportunity that I have. So, if I can use my privileges and my opportunities to help other people succeed in our artistic community, then I’m going to do that. Gotta do that.
Humanitou: What is your vision, your hopes and dreams for your work and where you go with all this?
Jasmine: That’s such a big question, because I always want to dream really big. Personally, I’d love to keep showing. I’d love to really focus in on the DIY community scene.
As well as showing and holding space for other artists in our town, and holding space for marginalized community members, is a really big deal to me. The more I can do that, the more I feel like I’ve fulfilled my goals.
Humanitou: When you refer to marginalized communities, who and what are you referring to?
Jasmine: Artists like me. Female artists, artists that didn’t come from a very wealthy background, people in the Latinx community, black and brown bodies, the least represented voices that we see in our town.
Focusing on the stories of Latinadad and my experiences, I feel like I can help hold space for other people who have those experiences and open the conversation up about how we can be more political in our making, be more political in our everyday, more socially conscious, more activated in our community.
Humanitou: Where are you coming from in who you are within that diverse community?
Jasmine: It’s, basically, everything I make my art about, is my narrative experiences. I grew up in an ESL household, single mom, fairly low income.
I come from these experiences that are challenging but not unheard of, which makes me feel like making work about that invites those people who have those similar experiences in.
Talking about Latinadad and talking about being a boricua, and living in the Caribbean diaspora. [“Boricua is what you call people from Puerto Rico. It’s Taíno culture. It’s our community. It’s our indigenous subset of people.”]
That’s a unique experience. My experience versus what an Asian-American growing up in Colorado Springs experiences is not the same, but we might find similarities in our experiences being part of marginalized communities, having experiences as women who came from households that didn’t speak English, or maybe ate food that was different than your friends’ growing up, or wore clothes that were different than your friends’ growing up.
And how that looks as an adult being able to reflect back on it and talk about it through interdisciplinary practices, like performance or installation to immerse people into those stories so that they too can kind of understand where I’m coming from.
Because every time I, growing up, saw art or poetry or movies with Latina characters, it felt so limiting, and so hard to relate to. It was stereotypical. It was feeding into all these old-school idioms of what Latinx people look like or act like. It was hard.
I was like, “Fuck that. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to partake in that.”
So, if I can reenvision all those objects and symbols of class, race, identity and put them into the world as a way for people to reflect on those experiences in a more honest way, more realistic way, then it’s giving space for people who never had it.
If artistically I’m putting that forward, then I am doing my part to make up for what I was not getting as a kid, or as a young adult. Probably not until I was in my 20s was I seeing art by Caribbean artists.
It felt like I spent a lot of time denying who I was or trying really hard to not look like my family, or trying to speak a different way. I was deemed invisible culturally, my entire life, and never once heard about boricuan culture growing up. I never read about it in a history book. I never once heard the word used in school. I had to teach myself.
I had to reevaluate what I wanted to be and how I wanted to be, how I wanted to express myself culturally and absorb the diaspora, and my family’s life and my ancestors’ life.
I’m still doing it all the time. I’m still untraining myself things I learned to believe about myself. So much of that has been an exploration through art and making, and telling stories and being autobiographical in my work. It’s a way of teaching myself.
If we keep telling our stories, we’re going to better understand our stories. And maybe someone else will, too. That’s the hope.
Humanitou: You want artists to be political in their work, to use those voices. What do you see in our current political culture? How do you respond to it?
Jasmine: Politically, things are crazy right now. Usually, political craziness leads to beautiful creation. We feel our most expressive when the world is falling apart, you know. When you’re most angry, you want to paint the most beautiful visuals.
Right now is specifically challenging, because there is a war on brownness and blackness, and differentness. It is beyond your typical hate. It is violent and scary and hard.
It makes some people feel like they want to recluse and not express themselves, and not talk about their narratives, because it’s dangerous and it’s scary.
It’s showing the people who are in power, who are doing violent acts, who are doing badness to black- and brownness that we’re still here, we’re still strong, we’re still beautiful.
Some people who feel a little bit more safe — like me, I feel safe in expressing that here — makes me want to blow my narrative bigger and express it even louder, and do it even greater than I ever have before.
I feel like now is the time to create as honestly as possible, because it’s, like, if you don’t, then no one is going to feel safe to you. It’s just showing the people who are in power, who are doing violent acts, who are doing badness to black- and brownness that we’re still here, we’re still strong, we’re still beautiful and powerful in telling our stories, and we’re going to do it louder and more honestly than we ever have before.
I think it’s the time to make. It’s the time to be a little bit more political in your work, and don’t just be an artist. Be an artivist, an activist artist. Make something that matters.
It’s just an insane time to even call yourself an artist. Anymore we’re not artists, we’re revolutionaries. If you are creating and expressing yourself, that’s the most bold, badass thing you can do. It’s a powerful thing to make something and tell your story.
Humanitou: Was their tipping point for you, a specific moment or experience, when you decided you no longer would tolerate the existing narrative?
Jasmine: I think right after Hurricane Maria happened. There was so much fear. It was so hard not having phone connection to your family and friends. Just this panic that felt like it was our own panic.
It was like this alone kind of fear that was awful, and I was so mad that no one was doing anything. I felt so bad for my family and my friends that were suffering, and no one was doing anything. It was so aggravating.
I was, like, I have the ability to make. I have enough connections and I can bring people in through my making that maybe I can do something. Maybe I can reach out in a way.
I don’t have money. I don’t have a plane ticket. Those are the things I don’t have, but I do have the ability to create. I do have an expressive voice and I know how to make people listen.
I was like, “I’m going to launch 100 Potions for Puerto Rico. I don’t have any money to make it. Maybe I’ll try for the Peak Arts Prize.”
I launched Brown Girl, American Dream. At my artist talk, I sat everyone down and made them listen to all the statistics about what was happening after the hurricane, and got everyone to donate diapers and formula, and food and flashlights — turned the whole art show on its head, turned it into a fundraiser.
I sat people down and held them accountable. I was like, “The story may not matter to you, but it matters a lot to me and it matters to thousands of people that you’re constantly not listening to.”
So what if I made space for that story, forced you to listen to it, give you the opportunity to give back financially, give back in support, give back in any way you can?”
That’s when I felt that fire launch and I was, like, “I’m no longer going to let making be a hobby for me. It’s no longer something that’s just general expression.”
I think making will change the world. If I can do some little tiny part in that, that’s changing my world, it’s changing the world of people I love. I think everyone’s doing that in their own little way. It just looks different.
Humanitou: You recently performed a piece you called “Reclamation of Sif.” I’m curious about that form of expression. What is the power of that medium, as opposed to visual art that hangs on walls and can be replicated and sold for years to come?
Jasmine: Performance art is immersive. It brings the narrative right in front of your face. There’s no getting around it. It is not theatre. No part of it is like that, scripted or make believe or pretend.
You’re not pretending to eat something, you are eating something. You are not pretending to cut your hair, you are cutting your hair. You’re not pretending to harm yourself, you are harming yourself.
It is a real life experience that you are putting in front of people’s eyes. It forces your audience to engage with you and feel with you, because you’re making eye contact with them.
Sometimes you’re touching them. Sometimes they’re touching you. Sometimes they’re in your immediate bubble. The last performance piece, I was within two feet of all my guests. You’re sharing a space with somebody that is so intimate and real and scary. But it feels like this way to have real power.
Sometimes, when showing 3-D work or sculptural work, or paintings, it feels like there is a little bit of a distance. There is space for gaze and thought, some time to dwell. You can take it home. It gives space and time whereas, with performance art, there is no time to.
It’s about having that time together that can’t be replicated.
Humanitou: You’ve used the phrase “holding space.” I recognize meaning in those words from yoga, from a spiritual practice. Do those ideas come from anywhere in particular for you?
Jasmine: I think coming through the university and then leaving school, and feeling this real strong sense of artistic community. You learn so much about the art world and you learn how to create and make, you build this little family.
After graduation, it’s like, “Oh, no. Where is all that?” I don’t know where I belong anymore. I was told where I belong and now I don’t have space anymore. I was just teaching myself what I needed.
After school, I was like, I’m my own teacher now, my own guide. Holding space means not just physical space, gallery space, it’s holding energy for you and being welcoming and loving, the things that maybe I wasn’t given after college.
Humanitou: I think we all could use more of that, more of that perspective to allow and give space for each other — and for ourselves.
Jasmine: Yeah. We have to hold space for ourselves. Sometimes the world doesn’t do that for us. So, being a little bit more loving and honest and respectful of ourselves, especially as creators.
When you’re creating and writing and painting, or whatever, it’s giving so much of your energy away all the time. You can totally turn dark.
Humanitou: There’s so much vulnerability in it. So much.
Jasmine: Oh, yeah. It’s like ripping yourself open and being like, “Climb inside everybody.” We do that all day long. If we don’t (hold space) for ourselves and each other, we’re all going to start trickling away.
This Humanitou conversation is cross-posted at PeakRadar.com. PeakRadar.com is the Pikes Peak region’s cultural calendar and digital cultural center, connecting residents and tourists with our vibrant arts community. Your source for what’s happening is PeakRadar.com!