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Interview Chloe Bensahel

Interview Chloe Bensahel

Published on October 23, 2018

Chloe Bensahel is a French textile artist who lives in Washington, DC. In Fall 2017, she began a nine-month fellowship at the Halcyon Arts Lab in Georgetown, an incubator that supports emerging artists at the intersection of arts and social impact. Born in France, Bensahel grew up in the US, and has worked in both France and the United States.

A piece by artist Chloe Bensahel at the Embassy’s Maison Française.

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Bagnolet, just outside of Paris, and I moved to Washington, DC when I was 7 years old because my father got a job here. I got my bachelor’s in textiles and design at Parsons in New York, then moved back to Paris and worked in fashion design. I worked for Yves Saint Laurent, and also for Dior, Chloé and some other fashion labels in Paris. I briefly lived in Japan, where I learned more textile techniques, then moved back to Paris and then to San Francisco, where I worked as an artist and worked for some non-profits.

Can you describe your work?

Put your hand on your shirt. Think about all of the things that it took to create the shirt, from the seed, to the cotton, to the person who manufactured the fiber, to the person who shipped it, to the one who exhibited and folded it. I want you to think about all the people you have touched and have touched you. Maybe it’s just a shirt. Or it’s a social network, it’s a diary, it’s a text.

I can’t help but think that it’s more than an actual shirt. We are so connected through the things we wear. There’s a seamless relationship between the things we inhabit and the thoughts or attitudes we have. I look at textiles as the container of the attitudes and the belief systems that we carry with us on our backs, and that we perform in space and our everyday lives.

I’ve been looking at textiles and weaving as representations of the social makeup and cultural makeup of a city and society. I work mostly with material experiments, I’m constantly making little weaving samples, learning through trial and error. I’m also constantly talking to everyone around me about how they see fabric, how they see textiles and also how they see culture.

A piece by artist Chloe Bensahel at the Embassy’s Maison Française.

What is it like being a French artist in the US?

Being a French immigrant in the US is definitely a privileged position, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who wasn’t excited by the fact that I was French. It’s really lovely to be so welcomed. There has been such a positive relationship between the two countries historically that it’s been a smooth transition here. Being able to go back and forth I’ve had the best of both worlds.

I love this country. I like working here and having discussions with people here about how they feel about being a foreigner. The US is quite keen to support young people. There’s a really big youth culture in the US. I’ve loved coming back to the US and having my art practice well received. It was more well received I would say at first, being a young contemporary artist, than in France. My interest in mixed identities comes from the fact that I have a mixed identity. A lot of my work has to do with fighting the notion of cultural purity, that there’s such a thing as a pure French or American person. ◣