Multi-hyphenate artists Chella Man and MaryV Benoitfearlessly document their most intimate and vulnerable moments – early photographs of Chella’s transition, stolen moments of candid affection, and a lot of tears – advocating for greater visibility for LGBTQIA+ communities.
Chella’s work first rose to prominence via self-made videos on Youtube recording his transition with brazen honesty. The videos deeply resonated with trans and non-binary teens around the world, forging new connections in the lives of those who so commonly spend adolescence isolated, lonely and misunderstood. His candour, and its warm reception from a growing online audience, inspired the artist to explore similarly personal themes in his following works, including that of his deaf and queer identities and his Jewish-Chinese heritage.
Chella met MaryV at a college party in 2016, and soon the creative couple’s art practices and lives were deeply intertwined, captivating followers with their authentic portrayals of young love and queer joy. While online fame frequently entraps its victims in harmful discourse and exploitative practices, the duo’s friendly and open approaches to online interactions and connections have fostered a caring community in their comments sections. They share photographs, videos, paintings and poems reflecting their adorable affection and admiration for one another, creating a shared body of work that encapsulates modern romance, which led to MaryV’s 2021 solo exhibition, Loving You.
Alongside capturing Chella, MaryV’s artwork explores similar themes of love, connection and shared identity. Made in collaboration with her sibling, writer Kénta Ch’umil, their 2020 portrait series You’re The One Who Holds Me Tightexplores the meaningful connections queer people create amongst their chosen families.
Witnessing the two artists fall in love and support one another through their successes is a captivating and tender experience. We ask the young couple to share their thoughts on love, life and finding family with one another.
How are you?
I let the sun kiss my skin today, so I’m feeling good right now.
What do you consider to be integral to your art?
What art do you most identify with?
Art that brings me to tears.
How has your practice changed over time?
I’m learning to speak up more every day.
In what way has Chella influenced your practice?
Chella held my hand as we walked through a new lifetime and showed me a whole new universe of beauty, pure love, new shades of blue, ideas, and believed in me and my work.
When did you start actively engaging with self-love, and how did this come about for you?
I am actively engaging with self-love every day. It is a practice. I highly suggest waking up every morning, looking at yourself in the mirror, and smiling.
What’s your strongest memory of your early childhood?
My strongest memory of my early childhood was learning to spell the word T-H-E. I remember thinking as a child, who has Dyslexia, why the fuck did they make this word so hard to spell?
What was your view of love when you were younger?
Everything was a fairy tale with a happy ending. Even now, I still believe it can be, a magical fairy tale with a happy ending. But not everyone is straight.
Can you tell me about a family member who taught you an important lesson about love, and what this was?
My mama told me, “love is work.”
How can we cultivate more love in the lives of young queer people?
Reminding them: they are loved, special, accepted, important, celebrated, honoured, and worthy. Not just in the future, but right now.
How are you?
I’m well, thank you! I am feeling extremely grateful for the opportunities arising in my life.
How have you connected with family during this past year?
Very frequently, I am happy to say! I cherish my relationship with my family. Their support and unconditional love fuels me just as much as my passions.
How does MaryV represent family to you?
MaryV is my family, in every way, just as much as my biological family is. She and I have grown together for five years now, side by side. The memories and rich moments of pure love will always empower me to be the person I am today. Blood does not create family. It can, but more than anything, family can be a choice.
What has your disability taught you about love?
To lead with it to understand yourself and to understand others, even when they may not put in any effort to understand you.
As well as being a form of love in your life, how has your chosen family shaped the way you see love more generally?
Chosen family discards the limitations of who you can love and encourages the expansion of relationships.
Your 2020 art piece Is It Worth Doing? explores your interest in having a family of your own. Did releasing this artwork lead to conversations surrounding fertility, family and gender identity, and if so what did you learn from these?
This performance piece absolutely sparked dialogue in my immediate circle about the desires of having children, the false reality of biological connection, and the importance of leaving gender norms behind when discussing birth and pregnancy.
Did your experience of love change or remain the same after transitioning, and how so?
The same, only different.
Can you tell me about a significant moment of gender euphoria in your life and describe how it felt?
October 25th, 2017:
Growing up, I was taught the infamous myth that the world only has two genders.
As everyone, I was only seconds old as I was assigned the gender: female, due to my body’s anatomy. This title, coated in pink, linked me with expectations society expected me to fulfil.
These expectations ranged from having a soft, delicate demeanour to being passionate about shoes, dresses, and overall looks.
I would struggle to fulfil them without losing myself in the process for years to come.
As I grew older, I realized it would be impossible for me to be a femme presenting individual.
With this realization, my dysphoria increased.
Before I even hit 10 years old, I had considered the loss of my cis-privilege. I would ask myself if sacrificing the ability to navigate the world with less challenges was worth living a more authentic life.
It only got worse with puberty; it felt as if the walls of who society wanted me to be were closing in.
I was living in a constant fight with my physical body and my mentality.
Finally, I tried letting go of who I wished to present as and live as a femme presenting individual.
I was miserable inside. Every mirror I crossed paths with just reminded me of who I was not.
I ached for my reflection to appear masculine.
Standing in front of myself, my eyes would trace over my body, drawing invisible lines to make me look more masculine in my mind.
These lines would expand my shoulders, flatten my chest, straighten my curves, and even alter my genitalia sometimes.
I would cock my head, squint a bit, and analyze these invisible lines, imagining the person I am inside becoming visible outside.
Now that I am transitioning, I am on top of the world.
I wish I could tell my younger self that the challenges one faces after coming out as transgender are minuscule compared to the pure bliss that explodes once you are able to live as yourself.
Today, I am becoming him.
What is the most meaningful gesture of love that you have received, and why do you think it resonated with you
The most meaningful moments of love are truly the ones that are often overlooked. When someone gives you space when you feel alone. When they check in on your mental health out of the blue, sending texts that they’re thinking about you.
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