Interview by New York Foundation for the Arts
Japanese artist Sophia Chizuco talks about her experience participating as a mentee and then as a mentor of the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Visual Artists. You can also learn about Sophia's practice by watching this video that our supporter ConEdison produced about her. [NYFA] What brought you to the Immigrant Artist Program (IAP), and how was your experience as a mentee? [SOPHIA CHIZUCO] After school I felt very isolated. Then one time I was looking online and saw the NYFA IAP application. It was 2009. I applied and they accepted me! My mentor was a mature artist, very much like a teacher to me. I didn’t know at that time that I had to write an artist statement, an artist bio, etc. The whole process is very different than in Japan. She sat down with me and helped me write all the support material needed for applications. That year I got a one-month artist residency in China. [NYFA] After being a mentee you became a mentor. How was the process of choosing a mentee? [SC] I started by seeing the artwork submitted in the applications. My main discipline is painting, so I looked at images and read the information each candidate provided. I did that for 3 days; I read and examined the work very carefully. Then I thought, "Maybe I can help this person; he works very well and needs a gallery.” I introduced my mentee to some galleries and to an art critic that ended up writing a long essay about his work. Then, he found a great sponsor and moved to a different country. You also learn a lot from looking at other artists’ applications. [NYFA] Based on your experience reviewing applications, what is your advice to those applying for the next program for Visual Artists? [SC] Please be honest saying who you are and who you want to be here in New York. Use clear words and clear images.
[NYFA] You have curated many group exhibitions where you included artists from the Immigrant Artist Program. How do you find galleries? [SC] I start by visiting galleries to see what they show, and then I talk to the gallery director. First, I always talk about the work that they show and then I tell them about who I am. If I notice that he/she is interested in me, I give them a card or connect with them via social media. I keep in touch and if they show interest, I invite them to my studio. If they are not interested in me but I like that gallery, I keep going to their openings. Sometimes it takes a couple of years before I get a show. I'm in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and it’s easier for me to collaborate with young galleries in my area. [NYFA] How can an immigrant artist working in New York find a community? [SC] My first step was becoming an IAP mentee and staying involved in the IAP program. By becoming a mentor, my network grew more and more. Also, I hang out with friends at neighbor galleries every weekend. I go to openings and to as many events as I can. I talk to people and connect via social media. [NYFA] Do you have a certain philosophy or approach regarding opportunities? [SC] I follow my instincts. My answer is "YES" almost all the time except if it's not physically possible. You never know when you'll find something new. If I see difficulties, I'll ask friends for help. [NYFA] What can you tell artists applying for IAP about the impact of the program on their lives? [SC] You will definitely make lots of connections through IAP. You will understand what the New York art scene is and where you will go. You will be happy as an immigrant artist. Learn more about Sophia’s project with IAP alumni in the Con Edison Newsletter Archive and about the #IAmAnImmigrant campaign. The application for the Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Visual Artists is now open. Interview conducted by Alicia Ehni, Artist and Editor.
Image: Sophia Chizuco at the painting workshop for celebrating immigrants at I AM AN Immigrant: NYC Pop-up!, 2017