What is your background in feminism &/ social justice? Can you talk about the evolution of your art?
I had a model of a strong capable woman in my life from an early age. My father had a severe head injury when I was six and my mother juggled supporting him as well as raising three kids. Watching the way people reacted to my father's disability growing up, instilled in me a strong desire to protect and advocate for those with less privilege and gave me a strong curiosity about difference and the ways in which we connect across difference. We didn't travel much growing up, but in my 20's I wanted to see the world and experience other cultures. Over the next decade, I moved to Guatemala, Italy, Kenya, Thailand, India, Eritrea, and I brought my paints with me. I set up my easel on the streets, painted the people I saw and talked to them about their lives. I got jobs working in schools and in refugee camps and shelters for kids living on the streets. I painted alongside them and watched their paintings come alive -- fascinated especially by their self portraits.
I returned to the U.S. and continued working with immigrant populations and with kids with special needs, using art as a means to connect. I worked for several non-profits and found myself moving up into administrative roles, which was not feeding my soul. I made the decision to go back to school and study expressive arts therapy to deepen my understanding of the power of art for transformation. I spent time researching my roots, where I come from, my people's history -- or as much of it as I could uncover -- in order to better ground myself in who I am. I began creating murals that explored family ancestry. I also worked with schools and non profits facilitating workshops for teens, guiding them to explore their own life stories and create murals collectively. The recent election shifted my focus from mural making to political protest imagery as I have felt the need to create work more quickly that highlights the human rights violations and lack of human respect in the public sphere.
How would you describe your work & what do you hope to accomplish?
The recent presidential election really opened my eyes to how far we have to go as a country in terms of respect for people of color, women, and marginalized communities. I spent hours creating a sign promoting diversity and inclusion for the Women's March in Oakland as a means of channeling my frustration and anger. Since then, I have been creating more signs to take to more protests- at the airport, on the streets, in front of city hall. I have found people really responsive to political art right now and I have been connecting with organizations wanting visual imagery to represent their specific issues (Immigration, Anti-fracking, Women's Reproductive Rights, Food Justice, Diversity and Inclusivity, etc.) and have been helping them create images to be printed on posters, t-shirts, and bags to sell as fundraisers and to spread messages of inclusion and respect for others. There is a lot of hunger right now for images that tell a story, that motivate, that speak what cannot be put easily into words. My images tend to be very figurative because I think connecting to the human aspect of any issue is what brings it closer to home. Right now I am using really basic materials- cardboard, black marker and acrylic paint in order to create work quickly and get it out in the world.
What inspired you to embark on this path?
I don't know that it was a choice. I have had lots of other jobs along the way but I always felt like something was missing when I wasn't creating art. I have had to do a lot of soul searching along the way as art was never something that felt very valued (financially or otherwise) by society. It gets treated as an extra, as an add on if there is time or money. I have come to realize that for me, art- in it's various forms- is what gives life it's meaning. You can have food, water, shelter but life has no meaning without our voice. I believe we as humans were meant to create, and to appreciate one another's creations. It is how we share who we are and connect with others. That to me, is what it's all about.
How do you make your art more inclusive?
This is something I think about every day. I am a white woman married to a man born in Ethiopia to Eritrean-Italian parents. My daughter is a mix of cultures and skin colors and languages and I feel both a personal and professional responsibility to continually question my own privilege and raise her to know where she comes from. As an artist contributing to the sphere of public art and political art it feels especially important to be as thoughtful as possible with the images I am creating and how they might be interpreted by others. I have a community of people who share feedback on my sketches and help illuminate my blind spots. I try to ensure I think through various lenses of experience when I create my work and that the faces of those underrepresented are visually present. I took less risks when I was younger to put my voice out in the world as I was fearful of saying the wrong thing but I now understand the importance of using my privilege as an ally and as an artist to engage in the public dialogue.
How do you define intersectional feminism?
To me, intersectional feminism is really recognizing that we are not all treated equally in our society and that we can’t act make real progress in our separate bubbles. It’s recognizing that some are judged and treated differently based on perceptions of gender, identity, sex, cultural background, religion, race, ethnicity, body type, country of origin, education etc. We cannot move forward until we are grounded in who we are, where we come from and until we recognize our own areas of privilege and how we benefit from them. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote comes to mind, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.” To me, this sentiment encapsulates the importance of intersectional feminism and working both on issues that directly impact us as well as showing up as allies to support others.
Why do you choose your work as your main method of engaging with feminism?
Painting and creating is at the core of who I am. Other forms of expression don't come as easily and I never feel like I have quite expressed the concept as articulately as I'd like. I have friends who are amazing writers, poets, gardeners, teachers, engineers, inventors, etc. My paintings and art express my truest voice.
What do you hope people gain from experiencing your art?
I've always been intrigued by the power of connection between people. I think the distress of disconnection is what causes most of the ills of the world. My art and my work are an attempt to speak to this. I hope that people see my work and it embodies a experience they've had and can identify with and they feel less alone. For others, I hope they see my work and it opens their eyes to other’s experiences they hadn’t previously thought about and it plant seeds of change.
Food Justice is one of the most important issues of our time. For #givingtuesday check out the amazing work @gwsomerville is doing in their community. Get a canvas bag, t-shirts or poster with this image when you support their go fund me campaign (link in bio). #foodjustice #urbangardening #youthprogram #foodstory
Is collaboration something you incorporate into your practice? Why or why not?
Collaboration for me is an essential piece of my work. There are periods when I spend a lot of time painting in my studio alone, but I love when my work can be interactive and frequently collaborate with non-profits and schools. I love how an idea moves and evolves when others are putting forth ideas and input -- I always find it makes the process more interesting and the final product stronger. I also do a lot of work facilitating art-making with others. It fuels me and inspires me to see folks of all ages find their voices and feel part of something. I have done a number of community projects- often with people who have never painted before and don't believe they can. It is so powerful to watch them tentatively pick up a brush and find their confidence and sense of expression.
What are 5 ways our readers can support the work you’re doing?
- Help spread the word on Social Media- follow me (@radicistudios), share, repost.
- Support the arts! Check out my online store. Buy art from other artists. Look at art. Hang art in your home that inspires you!
- I love collaborating with non-profits and individuals doing good work in the world to create images that can be used for fundraisers, events, etc. Please reach out and connect us if someone comes to mind -- firstname.lastname@example.org
- As the great Howard Thurman said “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Find your calling! Everyone has a piece of the puzzle to offer, we can all contribute actively to making the world a better place.
- Protest, resist, persist. Our world needs us right now. Take an active role in creating change for the issues you care about!
Are you a Feminist Mover, Maker & Shaker? We would like to share the important work you do. Learn more here.
Jen Bloomer is the founder of Radici Studios. She has lived painted and taught art around the world. She holds a BA in International Studies, completed a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting in Italy, and has a Masters Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy. For the last fifteen years, Jen has worked with people of all ages and backgrounds teaching art and creating opportunities for people of all ages to express themselves creatively. She has developed a strong appreciation for art's ability to connect communities, share a collective voice, and dialogue with the public. Having seen the deep disparities in opportunity in this country and around the world, Jen believes storytelling and the act of listening to one another's stories are an essential means to a more equitable world. She lives and works in San Francisco with her Eritrean-Italian husband and three year old daughter.