Queer Latinx Artist, Ludi Leiva | Discussions with LGBTQ+ Creators
Ludi is a queer, Latinx writer and illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her writing and art mainly explores diasporic identity, gender, race and sexuality. Her written and visual work has previously appeared in Wired, The New York Times‘ Women in the World, Literary Hub, Broadly, and more! She can be found on IG at @ludileiva.
Tell us a little about your creative journey — how you got to the work you’re doing
I studied political science and gender and sexuality studies. As a young, 21-year old college graduate, I basically had no idea what to do with myself—all I knew is I wanted to help people. So, straight away, I became involved with grassroots activism and nonprofit work. I did this for a couple of years before realizing that this work wasn't fulfilling me in a lot of ways, more than anything creatively.
I was stuck—I knew I wanted to affect change and fight for social justice but working in an office felt like it was killing me slowly. After a few months backpacking and clearing my head, I decided to move to New York on a whim. I came here with no place to live, no job, no real plan; I just knew I wanted to write and create. In the past three years, I'm really proud of the strides I've made. I wrote almost exclusively for the first year or two, at which point I started to rediscover my love for illustration. Now, I primarily work in illustration and design though I love to fuse my writing and illustration work whenever possible. I've been really lucky to get to partner with a lot of great people, companies, and brands that support the work I do.
Was there a moment in time when you realized you were an artist?
Deep down, I've always known I was an artist, but I never outwardly identified as such. For as long as I can remember, people have always used the word "artsy" to describe me. I always loved drawing, photography, music—so I identified with "artsy." But I was always too scared to come out and say "I am an artist." I used to draw constantly as a child, my mom reminds me every time I come home to visit that she still has several huge binders filled with my drawings spanning more than two decades. I'm really lucky that I had parents who always supported my art, but it's hard when society is constantly telling you how hard—impossible, even—it is to "make it" as an artist. In recent years, I've finally wrapped my head around the fact that, yes, I am an artist. And I am determined to make a life for myself doing what I love and nothing less. It's been a truly freeing experience.
Is there a relationship between your identity (queer/gender/otherwise) and the work you make?
My identity is absolutely tied to the work that I do. It's an extension of myself—and part of who I am is queer and mixed race. I'm also the daughter of a Latina immigrant and a father born in a WWII refugee camp. I believe wholeheartedly in generational trauma and the ties we have to our ancestors. I see my art, therefore, as not only tied to myself but to all those who came before me; to all of the cultures and forced migrations and exiles that make up my family's stories. In the same way, while I also write and create to make sense of these things as they relate to my life and the world today, my sexuality and other facets of my identity absolutely play a huge role as well. When I put my pen to paper, whether it's to write or draw, is when I begin to make sense of myself.
Tell us about an exciting and/or new work/project/thing you’re working on; how did it originate? How is it related to other work you’ve done?
I am working on a few projects right now! But one I'm particularly excited about is my first novel! I am so thrilled to have been selected as a fellow for the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBT Writers this August and I will be workshopping the early iterations of my book there. The story is loosely based on my own experiences as a queer Latina raised in the US going to visit Latin American relatives with my partner. The message is one of hope, but it's not the typical "and then her family accepted her sexuality and everything was great!" narrative. I really want to shed some light on what it's like to not be accepted by family, how there can still be joy and love even without the traditional happy ending we all hope for. There really aren't enough stories like that, especially given that so many queers of color struggle with navigating their sexuality alongside deeply entrenched ethnocultural politics that dictate intense hetoronormativity, machísmo and intense, obligatory hyperfemininity.
What is next for you? Do you have any hopes, dreams, plans you are excited about?
I am planning on starting to work on a couple of short graphic novels! I have been playing around with marrying my visual and written work more, so this feels like the next frontier for me. Other than that, I'm really looking forward to working with more people on illustration projects. I'd love to design some book covers or even collaborate with a writer or poet for a visual book.
What is inspiring to you right now — other makers/artists/musicians/ideas/cultural trends?
Seeing all the talented queer people out there making shit happen—especially queer and trans folks of color. I am here for all of you and my heart bursts to see how many amazing things everyone is up to. It really gives me so much hope to see the strides our community is making, even at a time of so much hate and division. This is such a huge part of why I do what I do. I am inspired by the thought of us all succeeding and bringing people together while doing so.
What was your first “makeup moment” and what do you wear today?
As a teenager and young adult, I was all about the makeup. Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I was so into the blue eyeshadow and lipgloss, the butterfly clips—all of it. I remember getting ready with my cousin in Guatemala one summer when I was 12. I think it was 2003. She was five years older than me and let me use all of her makeup and did my hair for me. I looked about 18 when I was all done (which my mom was not thrilled about—lmao) but it was the most beautiful I'd ever felt. From that point on, I used makeup as a form of self-expression and it was something that came very naturally to me. I was always the designated makeup artist among my friends whenever we had a party or event to go to. People would just pile into my house and I'd do their makeup and hair. I guess I got it out of my system back then, though, because today I am very low-key when it comes to makeup. This weekend at Pride I wore some eyeshadow and glitter, but today I'm just wearing a bit of mineral powder and some tinted chapstick!