UMKC student’s digital artwork provides a lesson in self-acceptance for us all to learn.
If I had to sum it up, I’d say that Lia Frenae’s artistry is an ode to ‘figuring it all out’. In a world that pressures us to know who we are, what we want, and where we’re going, it’s refreshing to see someone stand apart from it all. Unafraid to express her struggles and confusion as a student artist, Lia Frenae is handing the world back their boxes and making space for her authentic self through her remarkable digital art.
“When you look at my art, you see an introverted person. I really like to get in touch with emotions that I don’t typically display to people. Sometimes I create using pictures that I take of myself. I may not be sad when I created it, but that’s just how I get in touch with [the emotions],” Lia asserts. From start to finish, her artistic process is a journey deep inside herself. By pulling difficult emotions to the surface and displaying them on canvas, Lia practices a skill that many people find challenging: vulnerability.
“I would like people to know that it’s okay to get in touch with those emotions. You don’t have to hide when you’re sad. I always remind myself that it’s okay to be upset. I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with because they may not know how to control it,” Lia mentions. Controlling emotions like sadness, insecurity, or frustration can be challenging. Turning to her digital art for solace, it’s evident that Lia teaches herself how to manage these emotions.
Although, life as a student artist doesn’t come without a few roadblocks, and when you’re tasked with balancing school and personal artwork, the weight can be heavy. “Balancing school has not been easy. I’m not a super organized person, so it’s really hard juggling all of it at the same time. Sometimes I feel like school doesn’t really give me the chance to create when I want to create,” Lia explains. Now in her senior year, Lia’s coursework is intense. She informs me that she’s getting more into her upper-level coursework, which requires more of her time. I commend Lia for making it this far with a pure mindset to carry on. Her diligence hasn’t gone unnoticed by me—or UMKC, for that matter. This spring, Lia’s piece ‘Untitled’ was included in the 2021 UMKC Student Art Exhibition, an honor for any art student. “The day before I created that [piece] I was feeling insecure in my own body. And instead of beating myself up, I was like, let’s just draw something. It started off as a visual piece on my iPad and then a couple months later I turned it into a painting.”
Student life for Lia Frenae doesn’t just hold struggles, however. As it is for many students, college is an experience that’s exposed Lia to other parts of herself. “I’m naturally introverted, but I noticed that college made me more aware of another side of me that’s extroverted. And I realized I’m not really afraid to speak as I did before. I used to be afraid to get certain things out, so I think college has helped learn that side of me,” Lia states. She goes on to say that “School has helped me learn how to get in touch with the more organized part of my personality. Before I even got in college, I would store everything in my head. Schoolwork, all the plans that I have with friends or family, art projects, Viola concerts—I didn’t write anything down. Once college came and I picked up more jobs and met more people, I just had to start writing things down.” This organization certainly translates to Lia’s artistry. Her online store and social media involvement are easily some of my favorite things to look through.
Lia’s Instagram page is a public invitation into her world. “I treat my Instagram like my portfolio. If someone sees it they’ll know what I’m going for,” she explains. As I scroll endlessly through her feed for images and short videos of her creations, I’m in awe of how much she brings of herself to her artwork. Digital works that tell us, “It’s okay to be different” hold a theme of self-acceptance and compassion.
“I really like to highlight black women. I want to show all of the different shades of black women, and I just like to highlight our beauty,” Lia says. This passion for showcasing Black women’s beauty is in almost every visual work that Lia creates of herself and others. Seeking inspiration from Instagram, Lia finds many images that help her portray dynamic faces and body shapes. “I have a folder on my Instagram full of the things that motivate me from other artists. When I’m ready to create, I place the reference on the side and just create.”
As we discuss the Kansas City art scene, Lia begins by saying, “Community is really important. I want [my art] to be everywhere. I want my people to look at my art and get a sense of home because it’s in our community.” Lia continues, “A long-term goal that I have here in the city is to find a way to make the art scene more open.” We reflect on the hidden talent within the Kansas City community, pointing out that many Black communities aren’t included enough in the larger conversation around art.
The theme of transparency in Lia’s visual works encourages us to live a vulnerable life. We can find true strength from our struggles and commit ourselves to figure it all out as we go. In just her senior year as an art student at UMKC, Lia Frenae has learned these lessons and more.