Cedar City to Barcelona

Kelly Chuning is an accidental art student who has found great success at Southern Utah University. She is working her way towards a Bachelor of Fine Art in Studio Arts and plans to continue her education to achieve a Master of Fine Art in Photography. And along the way to her degrees, she is gaining national renown as an up-and-coming young artist.

Her most recent accomplishment is having her work accepted to the Biennial of Fine Art and Documentary in Barcelona, Spain. Her exhibit will be featured at the Space Nau Bostik in Barcelona from Oct. 4 – 21.

This is the fifth edition of the Biennial and features 280 photographers from 35 countries and will consist of over 700 works, but this isn’t even Chuning’s first international show.

Chuning began her artistic journey as a young child in San Bernardino, Calif. before moving to Cedar City at the age of 5. She then moved to Colorado at 15.

After graduating high school in 2015 Chuning became very sick, and it took a long time for her doctors to figure out what was wrong. She was sick enough that she had to withdraw from her classes at the University of Northern Colorado. Soon after, her family moved back to Cedar City and she decided to enroll at SUU in the spring of 2016.

When she enrolled at SUU Chuning intended to study history, but after having been forced to take some time off due to her illness, she had rediscovered her passion for photography. She said that without that semester off after high school, she might not have found her way back to art.

Chuning grew up in a home where the arts were celebrated and cherished. Her mother was the biggest supporter of her art.

It was her mother who encouraged Chuning to enter her first art show, here in Iron County. From the age of 5 until she moved to Colorado for high school, Chuning competed in the Iron County art shows with her photography, which was how she made money as a child.

For several years in her teens, Chuning actually stopped doing photography, but her father always told her to not forget about it because she might someday want to go back to art.

Her mysterious illness gave Chuning the inspiration for her latest series, which was accepted for presentation in the Biennial of Fine Arts and Documentaries in Barcelona, Spain.

After months without answers, Chuning was told that she had a tumor on her left ovary. Doctors had to operate to remove the tumor and her ovary. This was a traumatic experience for her,but it seemed that more people were not concerned with whether or not this surgery that saved her life, but whether it had left her without the ability to have children.

In the family-centered culture so prevalent in Utah, Chuning felt out of place and somewhat at odds with the expectation that part of her feminine duty was to bare and raise children. Especially when it was this innate ability of her womanhood that had gone so awry.

It was at the time of her surgery that Chuning was diagnosed with Endometriosis. After having spent years enduring extremely painful periods, she became very passionate about opening the conversation and spreading awareness for other women who may be suffering as well.

Chuning felt that it was unjust that the concepts of womanhood and menstruation are regarded as taboo when, without those natural functions, not a single soul would be alive today.

“I feel that our culture here (in Utah) is very much sustained by childbearing,” Chuning said, “it wouldn’t be as continuous without that family dynamic and I find it really ironic that we don’t talk about menstruation.”

Chuning has had several other art exhibitions throughout her years at SUU, beginning with a showcase in  SUMA, Artist-In-Residence at Zion National Park and acceptance of her work at international shows in Greece and Rome. For more information about her individual shows visit: https://www.kellychuning.com/

Chuning credits her professor Sam Davis for pushing her to send her work off to be considered for these large international shows, particularly for the show in Barcelona. But anyone could see that her talent and drive are leading her off for an exciting career as an artist.


Story by: Alexis J. Taylor
Photos by: Kelly Chuning