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Meet Eleonora Stella Oei

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eleonora Stella Oei.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
People always seem to wonder where I’m from, the combination of the way I look, speak, and the nature of my name have proven to create a perfect blend for maximum confusion.

So to clear things up, yes, I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia. No, English is not my first language and yes, I realize I have a very American accent. I suppose that’s what happens when you grew up watching American cartoons as a kid and spend most of your formative young adult years pursuing higher education in the US.

Being an artist was never a childhood dream of mine. Thankfully my brain panicked during an English speaking exam one day and blurted out that I think it would be cool if I could work for Disney or Pixar instead of saying the trusted becoming a doctor answer. Although I said it mindlessly at the time, something clicked. I went home, did a ton of research and found out that being an artist in this day and age is indeed an actual thing. I didn’t know anything about the industry or the possible career path until that day.

My research led me to a summer program by an animation school in Paris, France called Gobelins. I got so excited about the idea that I applied, despite being inexperienced and underage. To my surprise, they actually accepted me! It was a huge deal for me! I am still close to the friends I made then to this day. Being around them and being so kindly accepted gave me confidence that a random girl from Indonesia can indeed pursue this interest. That there is a place for people like me in this industry, and that I too can be a part of this bigger world that lies beyond the borders of my country.

Pursuing an education in the US wasn’t quite what I had planned initially. But fortunately, I was rejected by the European animation schools and all the other art school application period had closed. So, I ended up looking into community colleges and attending Santa Monica College. There, I was able to build up my skills and prepare my portfolio for CalArts and I managed to get in the following year on my first try!

Currently, I’m about to enter my fourth and last year at Calarts and I have met the most amazing people. I even had the chance to briefly go back to Paris for an exchange program with Gobelins the past semester! Well, before the whole pandemic kicked in of course.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Oh no, definitely not. Adjusting to life in a new country was very challenging and I had to grow up a lot. I even made a whole comic post about it in summary already.

I also had to learn how to stand up for myself and by extension, my art the hard way. My first-year film “Side Effects” got stolen from me and suddenly went viral without proper credit. I shut down for a bit because I didn’t know what to do, but my friends, family, and surprisingly strangers on the internet showed up for me to help me out. This leads to a sudden influx of people paying attention to my work.

At first, I didn’t know how to handle the attention and pressure, it was unbearable. I couldn’t create. I was lost. Art that has always been a personal refuge to me suddenly feels like it has to please an audience. It felt like I was losing myself, it was so scary.

I ended up taking up pottery, breadmaking, and channel my creative energy elsewhere while I put filmmaking to the backburner. I needed to discover my voice as an artist, which lead me to put a lot of work into myself. Apparently, that’s what I needed to care for my creative state.

Honestly, I’m just so lucky to have such good people around me. Everything has been so crazy yet it still feels like an epic adventure. Can you imagine almost being displaced from two countries within less than six months because of a pandemic? I couldn’t have made it thus far alone without their help and support!

Please tell us more about your art.
The strength of my work comes from the fact that I put a lot of thought and energy to appeal to people’s hearts and humanity. It has been proven time and time again from the films, comics, and other artwork that I’ve made, that art, love, and the human experience are universal. It can transcend borders and cultures.

I believe I owe that to the fact that I have been privileged enough to be able to travel to so many places. All the varied places, cultures, languages, and people I have interacted with and met have introduced me to so many new thoughts, ideas, ways of life, and point of view! It has given me the chance to experience universal kindness from people all over the world, which has undoubtedly brought richness to my work and has shaped me into the person I am today.

I strive to be an artist is to bridge the gaps in our world by telling meaningful stories that people can relate to. I don’t care what medium I do it in as much. As long as I can keep telling stories and giving voice to things that matter to me, rest assured, I will be doing it.

What were you like growing up?
I was definitely a curious and sensitive child who wanted to visit the places I read and saw in books.

I was also that kid who would come up to people who are sitting alone during a big family gathering to make sure they don’t feel lonely.

Apparently, I haven’t seemed to have changed much since then. Looking at how I still have such an affinity towards both people and traveling so much!

I wish I will always be able to collaborate and surround myself with people from all over the world.

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Image Credit:

Ruomiao Li

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