by Abaki Beck
This week's Feminist Hero is Jess X Chen, a young woman of color, multidisciplinary artist, writer, educator, and activist. Her parents immigrated from China to Canada following the Cultural Revolution. Much of her work centers on celebrating and supporting migrant and indigenous youth of color. Her work includes film, mural-making, poetry and youth engagement. She describes her work as exposing “narratives of diasporic time travel, intimacy and collective protest by connecting the traumas between the queer and colored body and the body of the Earth.”
She is a teaching artist who works with incarcerated families and migrant and indigenous youth. She is involved with a variety of rad projects, including: she is an artist for Culture Strike, a collective of artists and activists; a member of the Justseeds Artist Co-operative; and a co-facilitator of Artists Against Police Violence. She is also the co-editor and co-founder of the Loom Zine, a beautiful zine that features art, poetry, and prose. Her films have been featured at screenings and festivals across the globe, and she has worked as an educator with groups throughout the country on community murals.
What I most admire about Jess X Chen’s work, is her vision of inclusivity, community, and empowerment for women of color. Jess X Chen has worked with groups throughout the country to create murals that are both beautiful and socially agitating, highlighting the stories and importance of migrants and people of color.
In early spring 2016, she and filmmaker Tani Ikeda co-led a group of young migrant women of color in creating a mural about migration stories, the environment, and Earth. She and Ikeda led workshops which led to the creation of a community mural at a Los Angeles high school, reflecting the migration stories of many of the girls involved, and questioning why human bodies are so policed across borders, though it is part of animal nature to migrate. In this vein, she was also part of a group of artists who worked with the Colibri Center for Human Rights in 2015 to create a mural in Phoenix about migration, which uses imagery of hummingbirds and butterflies to symbolize the history, and normalcy, of migration.
These are the kinds of stories that must be remembered, as they are so often silenced in mainstream society, and particularly in mainstream American education. A mural is a concrete way to not only tell these stories - but to ensure they are heard for years to come by people with diverse or similar histories. The high school mural is beautifully titled, “We Always Had Wings.”
Jess X Chen’s work is visually beautiful, celebratory, and provocative. Today, we honor her as an artist, activist, and educator. Below, check out some of her work, and visit her website to support her!
Mural: "We Always Had Wings" (image courtesy http://jessxchen.com/)
"Self Portrait" (image courtesy http://jessxchen.com/)
"Ode to my Burning Family" (image courtesy http://jessxchen.com/)
And check out her recent TedX talk on finding her voice through poetry: "Immigration as Radical Imagination"