"My Existence Was Made Political": Chella Man X Opening Ceremony
“My existence was made political.” This is the quote spoken by an abstract, seemingly burdened figure in a masterful sketch by artist Chella Man in response to the death of trans woman Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza.
Chella is not just an artist— he is a genderqueer, transmasculine, deaf, Jewish, Chinese actor and activist. Despite his deep immersion into the pop culture industry, one that has notoriously proven homogenous and heteronormative, Chella has remained rooted in his commitment to utilize his art and platform to advocate for equality and justice for all minority groups.
In the past two years alone, Chella has risen to immense fame, breaking through seemingly all areas of the cultural sphere. He became IMG’s first trans/ deaf model, the first transmasculine actor casted as a superhero in the upcoming season of Titans on Netflix, and has most recently released a clothing line in collaboration with Opening Ceremony in honor of Pride month. These accomplishments are particularly relevant due to the tumultuous and socially ignorant climate currently pervading U.S politics, much of which has been established by the many intolerant decisions made by President Trump this year in regards to immigration law and LGBTQ+ rights. In response, Chella openly and publicly embraces his politicized being in an attempt to humanize the issues that so many seem willing to ignore. Through his art and platform, Chella works against the tokenization of identities. A recent Instagram post quotes him indicating, “as long as you share your truth alongside the title you claim (whether that be an identity, job, experience), society loses the power to demote you to one thing.”
His commitment to advocacy, visibility, and inclusivity pervades through all that he does, all of which culminates in his breathtaking new collection with Opening Ceremony. The hand-painted art featured on these pieces specifically detail his journey with hormone replacement therapy, first created when he began to take testosterone (a ritual he documents live on his Instagram weekly). Chella’s intricate, abstract paintings and drawings began as a means of self-expression—a way for him to attempt to deconstruct the complex fragmentation of identity that he has experienced from his early childhood. These complexities are the foundation of Chella’s unique, powerful artistic style, and are fully present in his new line. His work transcends a need for personal experience, proving powerful enough for thousands of people around the world to resonate with. An article with Dazed quotes Chella in revealing how “art has always been a mode of communication for [him] before [he] had the access to the language to explain how [he] felt inside.” The artist expands to explain how his relationship with art has been cathartic, allowing him to deconstruct his intense emotions surrounding the marginalization of outsider groups he identifies with, whether it be in terms of sexuality, race, gender, or disability. Without a role model whose identity encompassed all that he felt he was, he began to live by his now famous phrase: “be your own representation.”
Not only is the art itself offering a narrative often invisible to mass media, but Chella’s direct efforts such as casting an entirely queer team both in front and behind the camera and ensuring that all aspects of the line were accessible—from captions on promotional videos to wheelchair-accessible locations for shoots—sets an example that he hopes all major companies and organizations will begin to follow. In conjunction with his collection, he publicly poses the following question: “What constructs in your life must you unlearn to uphold inclusivity and respect for all?” Recently, in an Instagram post announcing its release, Chella wrote that he hopes this collection serves as “an open invitation to strive towards a future where all individuals can tell their own story, a privilege in our world today.” Chella’s demonstrated leadership is a perfect way to honor and celebrate Pride. Through his own positive example, he is actively working through the politicization of his identity, in turn, breaking down limiting social constructs and embracing the uniqueness of his own story in a way meant to inspire and encourage others. By refusing to reduce himself to one label, even considering the attention he has specifically received for his queer identity, he is opening the door for far greater inclusivity and respect for difference within pop culture, ultimately bringing light and positivity to a global community that desperately needs it.