An artist among us: The colorful life of BC’s Jônatas Chimen

Professor Jonatas Chimen's art gallery exhibit

Anabel Sanchez

Online Editor


What is art? What makes a person an artist? If there was ever someone who might know the answers to those questions, it’s contemporary artist and author Jônatas Chimen.

A professor of art at Broward College South Campus, Chimen has lived a colorful life befitting of an artist at his 37 years of age.

Born Jônatas Chimen Dias DaSilva-Benayon in 1981 in Brasilia, Brazil, he was raised in a diverse community bursting with a strong sense of family, love of food, and the need to mix with friends and neighbors alike.

He credits Brazil for the influence his peoples’ warm-heartedness had on him. “I grew up in a community where everyone trusted everybody. The children were the children of everybody, and everyone’s parents were like your own parents,” he recalls.

From an early age, he showed a deep interest in art while attending Catholic school and regional art schools, with his focus being drawing comic books.

In 1998, his parents uprooted them to the United States in search of better opportunities. After reluctantly settling in Weston, Florida, Chimen continued to draw. His drawings became the bridge that allowed him to form friends who took notice. He then met artist and mentor, Conchita Firgau, who encouraged him to focus on painting and telling stories through symbolism. Under her tutelage, he learned to paint in the style of Spanish Realism, made famous by artists such as Francisco Goya and Diego Velasquez.

He would go on to attend Broward College’s North and Central Campuses in 2003, then Nova Southeastern University, while briefly running an art school in Boca Raton. Ultimately, he closed the center to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he chose to pursue political science and legal studies, intent on finding a practical career.

While attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his life changed forever. With an overloaded school and fraternity schedule, he fell victim to the strain, being hospitalized with internal bleeding in his brain. It rendered him unable to use his right hand for writing, but more devastatingly, for creating art.

Lying in his hospital bed, he decided that he would pursue his dream of becoming an artist who sold works and lived off art-making, even if it meant painting with his left hand.

After this, Chimen would gradually regain use of his right hand and graduate with his Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies.

Chimen then returned to Florida, establishing himself in the Wynwood art district of Miami and receiving his Master of Fine Arts at Florida International University. He married his wife Shirley, a French artist, published numerous academic journals and articles on art and history, and began teaching art courses at Broward College South Campus while selling his art.

Writer and friend, 45-year-old Reina Barreto, who is chronicling his activities, said of him, “He isn’t self-interested. He is a great collaborator. He always has a way of bringing people together, forming a team of people.”

His lectures have also impacted his college students. Ashley De Leon, a 22-year-old Biology major in Chimen’s Art Appreciation class, said, “Attending his class opened me up to different aspects of art I wouldn’t have ever known. He’s extremely informative, but also engaging.”

Chimen’s artistic multidimensional range includes classical, oil paintings, performance art, post-modern art concepts, installations and time-based, among others. He was awarded Artist of the Year by the Anti-Defamation League for his art series titled The Journey and his creations have been featured in numerous auctions and exhibits worldwide. His upcoming exhibit at the Broward College South art gallery, The Refugee Cathedral of the Ascending Bull, will display from Sept. 4 through Sept. 28, with the reception occurring on Sept. 12 from 4- 7p.m.

With his rising success, Chimen considers himself to be a man who is living the American dream. He easily sees himself creating art far into the future.

Chimen sums it up simply. “One thing I have to make sure of as an academic, and now as a scholar, is to never abandon art, because art has always been there for me.”