Art and Inspiration: Q&A with professor Naomi Lemus

Feb 1, 2024Melissa Trevizo
Naomi Lemus, art professor
Photo by Megan Zecchin

San Jacinto College North Campus professor and program alumna Naomi Lemus is a talented artist and educator. She shares about her journey, which has embodied resilience, determination, and a passion for both art and education:  

Q: Tell me about yourself. 

A: I was born and raised in Galena Park. My mom still lives five minutes from the North Campus. Growing up as a first-generation Mexican American forced me to weave through multicultural environments and spaces, and that reflects who I am today.  

Q: What is your San Jac story? 

A: I came to San Jac because I didn't know where else to go or my college options. I am a first-generation college student, and all of this was new to me. I started with core classes and instantly became overwhelmed. My mom encouraged me to lessen my course load and look at things I enjoyed doing. That's when I enrolled in painting and drawing classes with Joe Clark, a wonderful mentor. I didn't even know then that being an art major was an option.  

Q: What was life like after San Jac? 

A: I enrolled at the University of Houston and earned my bachelor's degree in painting. And then I thought, “What now?” 

I applied to several graduate schools and was denied to all but one. Temple University in Philadelphia put me on the waitlist. I didn't know if I would get in, but I remained hopeful. In May, I got a call that a spot opened. I didn't even think before saying yes.  

It was the first time I left home and spread my wings. While at Temple, I learned to stand in my voice. I thought I didn't have the "right words" to talk about art, but my professors reminded me there is no right way to perceive art, and I had something to offer.  

I've been fortunate with the professors at San Jac, the University of Houston, and Temple — people who have mentored and guided me through my journey gracefully.  

Q: Why did you become an educator? 

A: A few months before my graduate program's end, I sent Joe Clark a message and said, "Hey, I'm ready to come back." Luckily, there was an opening, and in August 2022 I became a full-time faculty member.  

I didn't necessarily pursue art education, but it found me. I wanted to give back like many mentors had done for me. This career is perfect for where I am right now. I offer my students a unique point of view because it wasn't long ago that I was in their shoes, feeling self-doubt and questioning if I was good enough to belong. I need to encourage and validate my students' experiences as much as their artistic ability.  

Q: Talk about your artistic journey and what inspires you. 

A: My work looks to comprehend generational narratives of trauma through the lens of empathy, acknowledgment, mending, and forward movement.  

My search for emotional healing is a personal and artistic practice that focuses on forms of assemblage installation. These installations pull from family archives, such as handwritten letters, family photos, and personal and borrowed memories. I work alongside family members to recreate memories that have shaped us and our perspective of loved ones.  

These works draw from the “rasquachismoart movement. Chicano curator and author Amalia Mesa-Bains explains that "in its broadest sense, 'rasquachismo’ is a combination of resistant and resilient attitudes devised to allow the Chicano to survive and persevere with a sense of dignity." “Domesticana” is a form of feminist “rasquachismo” — to undo the wounds of patriarchy and colonization.  

Q: Additional thoughts? 

A: I am consciously grateful every day for my experiences. I am lucky to be a full-time professor at my age, and I don't take that for granted. I've left myself open to opportunities, and that's been rewarding. I hope to instill that into my students as well.  

See Lemus' work with fellow artist Victoria Ravelo on Project Row Houses

 

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