Jenni Bee - Creating Art for Social Justice
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Jenni Bee, (short for Belotserkovsky) is a multi-talented artist, visionary and humanitarian who believes in utilizing her artistic talents to make the world a better, kinder, more inclusive place.
Since she was old enough to hold a pencil and a paintbrush, she has been creating art. A nature-inspired painter, political cartoonist, art teacher and activist, Jenni also collaborated on a novel, teaching children about racism.
“Although I am white, my father was brown. My dad had talked with me as a child about his experiences as a Jew in Russia and the difficulties this created for his life. Later, I overheard people talk derogatory about my father's skin color. The first time I heard someone drop a racist remark about my dad, I was in a furious shock. I was just a little girl, but I wanted to walk over to the men who had talked like this and yell at them. My dad smiled and told me not to waste my energy with anger. I still get angry when I encounter racism or any other hateful reactions, but I now have the ability to stop and, instead, engage with the “victim” instead of wasting my energy on hate.” JB
Jenni attended a semester at art school and, later, moved into graphic design, as her parents were concerned she wouldn’t be able to support herself as an artist. But realizing the corporate world was not for her, she decided to switch gears and travel through Europe, Australia, Botswana (where she did volunteer work) and spent time living in New Zealand. She finally returned to the States where she settled in Vermont, went back to college to get her B.A. and, later, received her license to teach art.
Although Jenni learned a lot about the world in her travels and through her volunteer work, it wasn’t until she took an online course called, ‘Activism in Art’, that she had her epiphany; she knew this was the direction she wanted her art to take. She would combine her passion for art and social justice, while aiming to inspire deeper reflection as to how we treat our fellow human beings.
“As an artist and activist, I feel the need to thoughtfully engage the viewer and encourage them to stand against injustice and inhumane conditions. I will continue merging activism with my art as we are at a point in history where we cannot stand merely by as passive onlookers anymore.” JB
Horrified by the current American administration’s policies of separating children from their parents and jailing migrant families, she needed to do something in response to the anger and helplessness she was feeling. So Jenni designed a sculpture entitled, ‘Welcome to America: In Memoriam’
Her timely and relevant sculpture was exhibited at a recent art show in New Haven, Connecticut and featured in the ‘New England Foundation for the Arts’ autumn newsletter. But this is just a start. She hopes to secure enough funding to build a full-scale memorial through grants and public donations.
The sculpture’s white hands reaching out of the human cage, represent the spirits of lives lost in American detention centers.
If Jenni is able to fulfill her vision of
building a full-scale model, she will use various shades of granite to represent different races.
Jenni hopes her art piece will stir an emotional reaction within viewers; whether that leads them to taking part in policy change towards a more just society, or simply reflect upon their own lives. She also wants it to send a message to the victims - that they are not alone and they are being heard.
“I am appalled by the conditions asylum seekers and immigrants in the US are faced with. Asking for asylum is not a crime and migrants do not belong in detention centers. It never warrants separating children from their parents. Parents do not uproot their children and themselves lightheartedly. I cannot imagine a worse fate than traveling for days and weeks, with nothing but hope in your heart, and then being separated from your loved ones, put in jail like criminals, and then hearing of the death of your child. We as a nation cannot continue with this inhumane treatment.” JB
As a Jew, Jenni grew up with the knowledge of the Holocaust, and visited memorials - memorials that were meant to remind us of the terrible atrocities that happened in history, with the hope that they will never be repeated again. Her own memorial is meant to remind us of the suffering that is happening right now, while giving hope to the victims.
When Jenni reflects on what has inspired her to be the person she is today, she speaks fondly of her grandfather and the stories of his life that she remembers from childhood.
“My grandfather was a Russian Jew who lived in a Pale or Residency. He defied the oppressive Russian system by boarding a boat and working as a sailor for a while when he was just sixteen years old. After many adventures, he fought in the Russian revolution for the Bolsheviks. He became a playwright and, although deeply disappointed by the outcomes of the revolution, he never stopped believing in a better world. Later it was my father, the person who told me about my grandfather, who became my inspiration. His kindness towards me never faltered and, as an author and journalist, he never ceased trying to work for a better world.” JB
Jenni is also inspired by artists like Shepard Fairey, who created the famous Obama posters that inspired a whole generation of new voters; literally sending a message of Hope.
”Art is the most basic and cross-cultural form of communication. If we look at protests occurring right now across the globe, people use signs to express their opinions, what they are fighting for, and what needs to change. Art is a great tool to teach tolerance and inclusion.” JB
Jenni, herself, has experienced misogyny and abuse in her life. Her heart goes out to those who have been bullied and discriminated against for whatever reason – whether it’s because of gender, race, religion, or simply because they are different in some way.
”Discrimination against anyone has to end. When people say that words don’t hurt they are wrong. Words very much have the ability to hurt and leave long lasting memories. I wish I had the solution to end racism, bullying and intolerance. I think there are so many aspects of it, but the greatest is to bring everything out into the light of the public eye.” JB
Jenni’s message to those who have been victimized...
“You are not alone. Don’t give up, there are people who care.” JB
Thank you Jenni Bee – for being a ‘Works of HeART Hero’.
If you would like to help Jenni realize her vision to create her full-scale memorial, click HERE.
She could use a few heroes who believe in her and in what she is trying to accomplish.