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Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty. Click here for the full collection.

When I began art-making, I needed to prove that I could create something of worth, something beautiful, by my own efforts. This drive shaped my aesthetic and process, and I’m still grateful for those intimate solitary times in the studio. Back then I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone for their help or input. But I was often left with emotional, mental, and physical burnout mixed with pride—not the healthiest of combinations.

The size and concept of my installation and performance work have taught me I need to bring others into the process, and this challenges my natural inner dynamic. I have to ask for and accept assistance in myriad ways, large and small. Opening my process has made me softer towards myself and others. And I’ve experienced more beauty than I could have hoped for or imagined, both aesthetically and relationally.

Leslie Iwai. “Hold Fast”, 2018. Installation and performance. Urbana 2018 Artist in Residence Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: Barry Sherbeck.

At thirty, I was single, and I could fully focus on my artwork, faith, and community. I found myself working at all times of the night and day, often without considering my energy levels, safety, or personal boundaries. After I married in 2011, we moved, and I came to see the need to refine my process and broaden my margin to include my husband, our life together, and our extended family. My time is not all my own now. I rely on scheduled studio hours—and on offers of help. I’ve become more decisive in choosing when to say yes to a project, knowing that my yes may mean no to something or someone else.

Recently, I completed a performance installation with an ambitious vision and tight timeline, Hold Fast. A younger me would have tried to power through without inconveniencing others by asking for help. Instead, I reached out to my faith community, sharing my concept and vision. In addition to prayerful support, they, along with family and friends, helped me cut, sew, and assemble gowns of industrial felt, contributing more than two hundred volunteer hours, and they did it joyfully. I was reminded again how others enjoy being included in a project like this as much as I do.



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The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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