by Kierstin Conaway, LACIS Graduate Project Assistant
Jônatas Chimen, a Class of 2012 alumnus, is an extremely well-versed professional. Earning a LACIS degree and continuing his education to acquire a Master of Fine Arts degree from Florida International University, he is now a Brazilian-American symbolist artist, college professor, public speaker, and published author. Additionally, he is the co-founder of a metamodern art movement known as JADA. Jônatas’ inspiration stems from his Brazilian roots; he draws on his own identity and the knowledge he gained through LACIS to conceptualize the future, communicate with those around him, and mirror realities in his artwork. The staff at LACIS is very proud of Jônatas and all of his accomplishments, and we appreciate the thoughtful advice he offered to students as they embark on their own life journeys.
When did you graduate from UW-Madison? What degree(s)?
I graduated in 2012, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies. I then wanted to attend law school for international law, but instead decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts Degree from Florida International University.
What are you currently doing/working on?
I am a professional artist, author, college professor, public speaker, and co-founder of the JADA Art Movement.
What inspired your career? How does LACIS tie into your career experience?
I would say my experiences growing up inspired my career. I was born in Brazil, and in 1998, my family immigrated to the United States. Upon moving the states, I felt very lost, especially since I was used to such a colorful, vibrant environment. Reflecting upon that part of my identity—the roots and values—I found myself wanting to learn as much as possible regarding art. Therefore, I attended an art institute before graduating high school. In terms of academics, I also participated in summer law programs. My acceptance into UW-Madison lead me to question the future in relation to my life experiences up until that point. I felt I should study a discipline that dealt with the world as I knew it, which was naturally the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies bachelor’s degree. I already spoke Portuguese and during my time at UW, I learned Spanish. LACIS helped me not only learn cultural, political and historical knowledge of the region, but also helped me professionalize my linguistic skills. In hindsight, this decision was the best one I could make since Latinos are the fastest growing minority in the U.S.
As I previously mentioned, I had hopes to attend law school after graduating from UW-Madison. However, I made the choice to continue studying art and attend Florida International University. Currently, I am an art professor at Broward University, located in southern Florida. To briefly describe this area of Florida, it is a very diverse environment and many residents are multilingual, including my students. In fact, most of my students are first generation immigrants and benefit from having a professor that is sensitive to their roots and background. Without LACIS, I would not be able to help or relate to my students as effectively as I do. The best part about being a LACIS alum, consequently, is the fact that it is a globalized degree that prepares one to adapt to a rapidly changing society. For my own life path, this aspect lets me engage in the conceptualization of art (and other) movements that have yet to come.
Can you briefly describe the JADA Art Movement?
The JADA Art Movement is meant to stimulate a conversation that is not yet prevalent in the art world nor social philosophies. My co-founder, Dana Blickensderfer, and I started by asking the question: What was lost in the postmodern era that we could like to rescue? However, we found that solely relying on single tracked thinking was not sufficient; we needed a different perspective to examine that question. As a result, the movement was born by incorporating the best elements of postmodern and modern to address the gap that was present. Recently, JADA has been picking up steam and now has close to 100 artists that believe in it.
On the website, there is a lengthier explanation of JADA, including previous art exhibit programs. The most recent art exhibit was completely virtual due to the pandemic, and a YouTube video will be uploaded soon. This exhibit involved many Brazilian artists, and their artwork all featured layers of cross-references to Latin American culture, history and politics. My LACIS degree assisted me in translating the meaning of the artwork to an American audience.
What was your experience with LACIS?
Put simply: Terrific, global, and intellectually stimulating.
UW-Madison is such a massive university. In many classes, a student becomes just a number; the professor does not know them nor know how to help them. In LACIS, however, I found a home and faculty that grew to know me on a professional and personal level. I am so thankful to all of the faculty and staff, especially the undergraduate advisor Sarah Ripp. Sarah is an incredible advisor that cares and helps manages students’ academic careers. She, along with other LACIS staff, wants to know what their students want, while simultaneously recommending students options that will keep their mind open to different possibilities. Advisors such as these allow for LACIS to go beyond the four academic years at UW-Madison; they will stay in touch with you and treat you like true family.
How did LACIS prepare you to get to the place where you currently are?
It gave me the basis to be an interdisciplinary academic and artist, especially as I deal with the Spanish and Portuguese diasporas and immigration all the time as my main subjects for art and writings.
Do you have any advice for our current LACIS undergraduate students?
While you pursue a degree in LACIS, keep in mind that you will not have a clear path ahead of you. You need to forge your own path, create your own future. I suggest asking yourself these questions: What are your interests besides learning to understand LACIS culture/languages? What else do I enjoy? Where do I want to go professionally? Once you have the answers, combine the two disciplines to become interdisciplinary and a more profound professional. In that sense, you can do anything and everything if you major in LACIS. Don’t limit yourself! You will stand out because LACIS prepares you to deal with a globalized world, and all professional fields (academia, government, business) will need more professionals like you!