Juan Miguel Martinez
BIPOC Featured Artist: Jeanette Martin
The spirit of community is the engine for many things, it drives people to move, is a force that seems to evade people who seek to understand. For the people that are on the ground and in the community, however, the explanation is simple – there is power in numbers. There is little room for idealizing and time is better spent organizing, for it is that which truly makes a statement and gets things done. Jeanette Martin is a Chicana community based artist who was born and raised on the south side of Milwaukee and employs this discipline, one that is rooted in not just art. Her truth is also told through planting the seeds of equity, ones that grow into trees with branches that give proverbial fruit. It is done through concerted efforts such as mutual aid, and through bridging communities of color in the city, for which she has an insurmountable passion and focus.
Recently, Jeanette supported lead artist Sam Kirk, who did a mural on a building on 27th and Lawndale in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. The building is a former convenience store that stood vacant for awhile, but was purchased by an organization called “Nueva Vida”, which has provided free food during the pandemic. Nueva Vida plans to turn it into a free grocery store for the neighborhood. “I have always been aligned with my community and its needs. For the last 31 years of my life, I’ve always asked myself if what I am doing in that moment serves a greater purpose, outside of myself”, Jeanette says. “Everything we do has an impact, so it is up to people to choose what they do and that they choose wisely”.
“I have had the privilege of going to art school, although I don’t believe you have to go to learn. I have never wanted to be a lone artist, creating while secluded. It makes no sense to me”, she says. It is for these reasons that she went into art education, because it is a tool, something that impacts communities. Institutionalized art is not something that she has patience for, because art is meant to be accessible, not locked away for the privileged.
Jeanette is an artist of many disciplines, some being painter and printmaker, and learning from different people is definitely something that holds value for her. She originally went to undergrad for political science but quickly realized it wasn’t for her and started taking art classes. “When you choose to dedicate your time to something that isn’t traditional, it can be a difficult conversation to have with immigrant parents. They have seen, however, that I am truly happy with what I am doing and they understand”, she says.
Activism and art are two things that have gone hand in hand since they were both birthed, but the term “Activist” is a term with much baggage, and is one that is simply lazy. Jeanette is more of a community correspondent, part of something larger.
BIPOC Featured Artist: Sara Moralez
The artist is hard at work, in their lab, where sparks are flying and liquid steel is poured into pots, in the practice of smelting. The molten bright orange is poured into pots, flames flailing around the stream in a torrid dance. The artist is careful, dutiful and meticulous, so as to be able to create with this antediluvian practice. They wear a welder’s mask so as to shield their eyes from the candescent glow, which also comes in handy when stic welding for their many mold making projects. This artist is Sara Moralez, a recent MIAD graduate and resident of Milwaukee, WI who was born and raised on the north side by their Mexican immigrant father and her mother, who Sara says is a “Southern Belle”. Sara attended a montessori school, which they say really influenced their way of creating, because they learned to do everything for themselves at an early age.
“I was pushed into joining the International Baccalaureate art program at Rufus King high school by a teacher that saw potential in me. I was always the creative one in my family, counterbalancing my brother’s academic inclinations. My father had aspirations of becoming a scientist here in the U.S. – he stopped in Milwaukee and fell in love with the south side and settled here”, they say. Sara’s father worked with his hands and needless to say, was not the type to call a handyman when something needed fixing around the house. “My father never pushed traditional gender roles. I was always allowed to help with the heavy work around the house, so I learned what tools were and their purpose at an early age”, Sara explains.
For Sara, they can track the exact moment they realized art was created by hands, which would become a catalyst later in their life. “There was a house my father lived in and moved all of us into. There was a big upright piano that sat in the dining room, which was there before he moved in. He couldn’t afford to get it tuned or removed from the house, so he stripped the paint, repainted it, and transformed it into a toy for our family. He let us play on it all the time and never got annoyed with us”. It is because of this memory that Sara created a working piano out of plaster for their final thesis, as an ode to the person that provided a pivotal moment in their life and growth.
Sara’s first foray into using industrial methods to create came from an early age, where they recalled stained glass windows from church. The fascination with creating dancing colors through glass led to them working with metal, which reflected those methods. “The first time I created something, my hands bled and it was something truly satisfying. It led me to feel like I am an alchemist or a mathematician as well as an artist”. Maybe they are subconsciously living their father’s dream to become a scientist.
BIPOC Featured Artist: Rosy Petri
Conversations with Rosy Petri seem to just flow naturally. While interviewing her for this article, the topics at hand were at the forefront, yet it meandered meaningfully. We discussed union organizing history and blues music because they are subjects for which we both share an affinity. They are also themes that hold steadfast and strong in her body of work, which can only be described as methodical, deliberate, vibrant and above all – rousing. It evokes a sense of pride, and creates touching moments from troubled histories. She is a multi-faceted artist, based in Milwaukee, evoking the spirit of freedom fighters and civil rights leaders that have inspired her.
She is a self-taught artist that primarily works with fabric, but uses industrial tools to create her work. “My iron is a crucial tool in my creative process. It is very heavy and gets super hot, and I got it from my mom. I do my design work virtually, so my process is very architectural”, she tells me. The multi-colored fabric is woven together to create images that recall glass staining methods, but tell many stories through the sewing.
While Rosy lives in Milwaukee, she spent time in her life in Racine as well as the south, which also influenced the way she creates. “My mom is white and from the north and my dad is Black from rural Mississippi. He owns land there, but they came here for the great migration. That experience made me acutely aware of what dignity looks like. It made me want to fight for that dignity and equity. I have done a lot of political campaigns and organizing work, but I feel the best way to show it is through art”, she says. “The human thing is to stand with people, but as artists, our gaze is a little longer”.
Recently, a mural of Hank and Tommy Aaron done by Rosy went up on the side of 2222 W Clybourn, which is visible from I-94. The Interstate has long been a symbol of displacement and systemic racism in the city of Milwaukee, so to be able to see it from there is a true statement. When discussing murals, it is a subject that can cause many different reactions. “It is important that murals come from a place of love and are made by people from the neighborhood. Murals that aren’t carefully thought out usually are the first sign of gentrification”, she tells me.
Capturing “Radical Black Joy” is important for Rosy’s artwork, as it is something that she feels the need to express. Her mentor, Della Wells, had a profound influence on her, particularly when they took a road trip to an outsider art festival in Tuscaloosa, AL. Della advised her to apply for a residency at the Pfister hotel so she could be rejected and “get used to the feeling of being rejected” for grants and residencies. “The thing about that is that the feeling of rejection never came for me”, Rosy says knowingly.
About Juan Miguel Martinez
Juan Miguel Martinez is a Chicano writer from the south and north side of Milwaukee. He is a union organizer and considers himself a professional appreciator of all culture.