Katie Niewodowski’s Portraits of Black People Murdered by Police Memorializes Their Humanity

Featured

Breonna Taylor, 26, EMT

Katie Niewodowski. Breonna Taylor, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, 2020. Colored pencil on shrinky dink. “Breonna Taylor, 26 beaming with pride, hair carefully braided, radiating joy as she accepted her EMT certificate. She was shot to death by police in her bed after they illegally entered her home. She was aspiring to be a nurse. The three officers have not been arrested.”

Katie Nieodowski grew up on the west coast of Florida and has lived in Jersey City since 2006 where she makes her art and owns a personalized portrait company, Petitraits. She is a professor of Visual Arts at Hudson County Community College (HCCC), Montclair State University, and Stevens Institute of Technology. Niewodowski received her BFA from Ringling College of Art and Design and her MFA from Montclair State University. Her work is a meditation on the phenomenon of life and the creative structures that perpetuate it. She explores repeating patterns in nature, the interconnectedness of all living beings, and the portal into these networks that the process of art-making provides.

Her latest series of portraits called I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free tell the stories of black people who have been murdered by police. She’s chosen to focus on women to begin because their stories are often brushed over or diminished.

Katie and I work together at HCCC but it was after talking to her about her artwork included in last year’s Cathedral Arts Festival (I was one of the curators) and hearing her speak at the artist talk I helped organize as one of the events for last yeat’s Jersey City Pride Week that I felt I really got to know her as an artist. I’m a big fan of her work. When I saw her post the first image of this series on social media I knew I wanted to know more.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, Pre-med student

Katie Niewodowski. Atatiana Jefferson, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free Series, 2020. Colored pencil on shrinky dink. “Atatiana Jefferson, pre-med student, 28. Shot and killed in her home through a window by police while playing video games with her nephew. The officer was responding to a non-emergency “care call” because Atatiana’s house door was left open.”

Can you talk about why you decided to create this series? How do you think people will respond?

The project of making portraits of black people slain by police is to raise awareness of their individual stories, the problems our country has with systemic racism, and the long history of brutality by the police against black communities. It took me a long time to be willing to take a really honest look at this horrific reality. I’m hoping the portraits will give people an entry into their lives that isn’t as traumatic as repeatedly watching video of their final barbarous murders.

With each portrait, I’m researching their stories, learning about their lives and families, and rendering them in the intimate manner that is required when making such small and intimate portraits – both in size and style. I’ve always felt the process of portrait drawing helps me connect with the spirit of that individual. There’s a tenderness that is felt when attempting to capture someone’s humanity. As emotionally challenging as this project has already been, I want to feel all of it; their light, their hopes and dreams, and the utter sadness of their lives cut short. I make these as much to deepen my own empathy as to teach others about who they were. Nothing will change without empathy. I want to offer the world tiny relic-like memorials to these martyrs as an antidote to big monuments of slave traders and murderers.

How long have you been creating art? How would you describe the type of art you create?

I’ve been creating art with female mentors ever since I was a baby. Gladys, the woman who cared for me while my mom worked was both an artist and craftswoman. She had my hands in fabric, clay, and paint before I could walk.

Later, when I was about 10 years old, I would take after school lessons with Alice, a woman who specialized in portraiture and gave me a love for that genre.

While my practice has broadened to encompass other styles than portraiture, it is still a method I return to frequently, especially when I want to focus specific energy on the human spirit and experience.

Who are your art heroes? Who or what inspires you in life. Who or what inspires your art?

Louise Bourgeois is one of my favorite artists. I’m extremely inspired by how prolific she was with such a vast oeuvre. As an artist who enjoys exploring many different mediums and styles, Louise is an artist I return to again and again for confirmation on what it means to live the life of an artist.

When I was in grad school, she would hold weekly “salons” in her Chelsea apartment each Sunday. While in her 90s, she was still making art, and welcoming artists and students to dialogue with her on a regular basis. I’ll never forget the Sunday in which I got to meet her and bring her a piece of my art to discuss. We were also asked to bring chocolate and whiskey but that had to go with us when we left. (lol)

Louise was primarily concerned with her internal experience and psyche. I am also interested in this but, more so as it relates to nature, spirituality, and other people. In that vein, Hilma af Klimt is the artist I have been looking to the most lately. She made portraits as a career but her true art was to divine spirit through the elements of visual art.

Does being gay ever inform your art process?

To be really true to one’s art, it requires an incredible amount of courage. An artist must continue to take risks and always be questioning the authenticity of their expression. For me, there was no greater challenge of authenticity than to be true to ALL of me. I had to learn to embrace this part and not be afraid to share it with the world. The same goes for my art.

What impact do you think being a teacher has on your work?

Aside from being perpetually inspired by my student’s creativity and enthusiasm, I’m always striving to be a better teacher. That means I’m motivated to learn more about the various processes of art making, art history, and what it takes to stay motivated and disciplined. I want to be able to effectively share what I learn from my own process with my students.

Joyce Curnell, 50, Mother

Katie Niewodowski. Joyce Curnell, I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free Series, 2020. Colored pencil on shrinky dink. “Joyce Curnell, 50, mother. She died of dehydration in police custody after being arrested while seeking medical care for a stomach illness. The arrest, at a hospital, was for outstanding court fines for shoplifting candy.”

In your new work you have stated that you’re aiming to “tell the stories of black people who have been murdered by police.” Can you talk more about why this issue spoke to you?

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took a lot of conversations with my partner (who is black), reading, educating myself, and discarding a lot of defensiveness to begin to admit what I was never taught in school – that racism continues to exist and that many of our country’s laws and structures have been built on it.

After seeing these murderous scenarios repeated in the news cycle more times than I count, it became clear to me that something must change and that we have a deeper problem in our country than I ever wanted to admit. None of these are isolated incidences. They are part of the very sick and unhealed foundation of this country.

Frustrated by not being able to join the protests (I’m taking care of my 74-year-old mother and don’t want to expose her during a pandemic), I felt I needed to do “something.” It made sense to do what I know – make art.

How are you going about choosing which people you include in this series?

The people I’m choosing to draw are all people who have been unjustly murdered by police. I’m hoping to create a memorial to their collective tragedy. While also aware that I’ll never know everyone who has died this way throughout history in this country.

Why have you decided to focus on women first?

Women’s stories are often brushed over or not given the attention that the men’s stories have been given. While I hope to ultimately include each black person who has been murdered by the police, I’m focusing first on the women. Black women are among the most marginalized in our society second only to black queer women or black trans women.

Where does the series title come from?

This is a reference to the Nina Simone song in which she manages to break your heart while also declaring the striking power of her spirit. (Listen to the song here: ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’)

While the stories of these women are heartbreaking, the spirit of this moment has the potential to powerfully heal our country and set us free from the sin of racism.

That is, if we do the work. And just like the many portraits I have yet to draw, there is a LOT of work to be done.

Has the stay at home order affected how you approach your work or the materials you are using?

I’ve been quarantined in Florida, taking care of my mom since March 8. The portraits are tiny and can be done at my “makeshift studio” on her dining room table. While this style of art making is not new to me, it is one that I can return to when space is limited. Before the pandemic, I had just begun some large paintings in my studio in Jersey City. Those had to be put on hold but I’m looking forward to getting back to them when I return.

How do you think the pandemic will affect your ability to show and sell your artwork?

Before the pandemic, I was slated to be included in a 3-person show in Jersey City. This has been put on hold indefinitely. I’m concerned about how the current economy will impact art sales. But, on the bright side, I’ve been enjoying the creativity of the moment. For instance, I’ve been involved in two mail art exhibits, a digital catalogue, and multiple
collaborations. There’s a communal energy that was not as present before the pandemic. I love how artists, gallerists, and curators are rising to the occasion and inventing beautiful ways for us to contribute to this important moment. Darwin’s famous dictum, “Survival of the fittest” was a misinterpretation. The true translation, and what artists are striving for is, “Survival of those who best adapt.”

Katie will be posting new images from I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free on @petitraits.

Follow Katie Niewodowski at:

@katieniewo and @petitraits
www.facebook.com/petitraits
www.katieniewo.com

 

Mom Beat COVID

Featured

IMG_7722

It has been a tough year for my Mom. In and out of the hospital since New Year’s day, then to a rehabilitation facility, then testing positive for COVID-19. The past few weeks have been another mental rollercoaster for her and for our family. Luckily, Mom has been mostly asymptomatic having a slightly more pronounced cough, feeling tired, and a bit confused.

After two positive results, she had a negative. Yay! We were told she needed one more negative to be cleared. We celebrated a bit thinking she would quickly be out of the woods.

The next result was inconclusive. Wait, what???

Then a result of presumptive positive. The current theory on this is the test picks up dead COVID cells still floating around in a person’s system.

Finally, last Saturday she had another negative. Yay! But then we were told that since so much time had passed since her first negative result she needed another negative. They basically look for two negative results within a 72-hour rage of each other.

When this all started test results would come back in 3-5 days. Now that testing has increased, especially for healthcare workers who are now tested twice a week, results take anywhere from 7-9 days.

Yesterday we got the news that her most recent test was also negative! YAY!

After 50 days on the COVID unit Mom was finally able, with help, of course, to leave her room and go outside–breath fresh air, feel the sun and be around other people.

Mom still has a long road in front of her but today is a day to celebrate and give thanks!

I’m thankful Mom had the will, strength, and faith to get through this experience. I know my Dad has also been around watching over her and I and guiding us through all of this.

I’m so thankful for all of the people caring for her. They have gone above and beyond to care for my Mom and all the other patients in their care. They were the human connection that replaced us family members–they hugged and held my Mom when I could not. I’m not sure how you can ever really thank someone for that.

I’m also so thankful for all of our family and friends who have reached out through phone calls, texts, and social media with love, support, and virtual hugs.

And I’m thankful for my wife Beth who has seen me at my best and worst through all of this… and still loves me.

It just goes to show you can not keep an Irish girl from the Bronx down! Go Mom!

Bern and the Brights Released Their New Single ‘Lola’

Featured

BTB_OVERLOVE_CVR_LOLA_FNL

Today Bern and the Brights released their new single Lola. In honor of Juneteenth, Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its proceeds from all artist sales made today, June 19 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. I took this opportunity to chat with Bernadette Malavarca to find out more about their new song and how their creative process has been going during the pandemic. I’ll be including this interview in my posts of inspiration and art from the LGBTQ community which I’m sharing on the Jersey City Arts Council Facebook page during Pride Month.

In an email statement Bernadette Malavarca and Catherine McGowan sent out the following statement:

“Our allegiance to the principles of equality, peace, justice, love, and embracing diversity is nothing new; through our work with music, we have sung in service to these values, and we feel lucky to have the beautiful vehicle of song as a way to help people heal, unite, and connect. Continuing on that path, on Juneteenth, Friday, June 19, we are releasing our new single, Lola, on BandCamp. Bandcamp will be donating 100 percent of its proceeds from all artist sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ‘a national organization that has a long history of effectively enacting racial justice and change through litigation, advocacy, and public education.’ We hope you stop by BandCamp on the 19th to pick up Lola and other tunes, by us or others, and take some time to let music do what it does best—soothe the soul—even during the fullest, craziest days that leave us with what seems like endless work to do. We can do it, though.”

105046143_2668915426762481_5652964639673286288_n

Bern & the Brights (Bernadette Malavarca and Catherine McGowan) Photo Credit: Devenche Devine

In case you’re not familiar with their music:

Bernadette Malavarca and Catherine McGowan make up the electro-pop duo Bern & the Brights. Mixing rhythmic loops, synths, ambient guitars, emotional vocals, and introspective lyrics, their music is a fusion of light and dark wave.

Why do you want to participate in this project? What do you hope to get out of it?

We view creating and sharing our art as a way of connecting with others and spreading love. It is a privilege to be part of a body of expressions from our LGBTQ community. We hope to get a human connection out of it, and we hope listeners find some light, joy, spark from what they hear.

How long have you been creating music? (together/separately) When did you form Bern and the Brights?

Bern & the Brights is 11 years old, but we have been playing music together for about 13 years, and I have been making music since I was a kid, almost my entire life, but as a performing artist since 15. So that’s 300 years now. (jk)

Who are your music heroes? Who or what inspires you in life? Who or what inspires your music?

Our musical heroes: The Veils, Jeff Buckley, U2, Sinead O’Connor, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Chopin.

What/who inspires our music: all of life, love, relationships, life’s burning questions, other artists we love.

Do you consider yourself “out” artists? Does being gay ever inform your process?

Yes. I think being gay informs the process for sure, because it’s baked into our nature: heart, mind, body, soul. Being gay is a lens we look through each day. I also think (and this song is an offering of this) that music has given me an outlet to write songs from a queer gaze. So many of the love songs we hear are written from a heteronormative perspective (usually male). We have space to hear songs sung with the same self-possession and romanticism we hear in the tunes written by men longing for women. There’s a void. Through music, moving forward especially, it’s freeing to not hold this gaze back, aspire to capture its nuance, and see where we can go with it and share it with others.

Can you talk about your new release Lola and what inspired the song? Is there a real-life Lola? What’s the story you hope the lyrics convey?

Lola is a composite of all the women I’ve loved in all the forms of love my entire life. And the song shoots to express how the quest to deeply behold and connect to “her” is never quite satiated or encapsulated, because there is no beginning or end: a call to that connection is ubiquitous and too large for mortality: just an is-ness that is a drive of my existence. Longing feels lovely but also aches.

How long have you been working on this song? Is it something you were working on before the pandemic? If so has it changed at all since you started?

It has been a while: the recording and final mixing and release process hit some bumps and slowed down at the pandemic. I wasn’t sure it the time felt right to put out new work: here is this romantic song in the face of super grave problems. What am I offering people with it? And the answer I guess was a purely romantic song in a dark, grave, disconnected time. And when we had the opportunity to share it on Bandcamp, that proceeds would benefit the NAACP, it seemed a good moment to share. It is always more meaningful to share work that may benefit others.

Is the song part of a larger release you’re working on?

The song is part of a “song series” called Overlove. The songs deal with love, a la the comments I made earlier, and try to address the ache of holding so much love in the heart it might explode. But also “overlove” can be about endings as well.

Has the stay at home order affected how you approach your work? Did you record the song from home?

I did not record this song from home. I have written another song for the series (in response to the murder of George Floyd). I’ve also begun working on my instruments again, with a lot of focus on piano, and writing a lot of poems… I think this will fold into new music work. And we have plans to pick up the recording somehow this summer.

How do you think the pandemic will affect your ability to share your music? To make a living as a musician?

For us, I think it’s felt like a fine line … it could easily feel inappropriate to focus on self-promotion as usual as artists we are encouraged to do. Something about that has felt shallow in relation to what we truly feel and care about. Speaking for myself, my heart has been heavy, I’ve been contemplative, and in some ways private, and not on salesman mode. My thoughts are well…what’s next? What do we want to say about this? How can we use this medium to help? And I think that will show up in our songs. And we have not played live much (live streaming). It has thinned out our earnings as music artists, but luckily we have other streams of income. I know this has hit some artists very hard.

Anything else you want people to know?

That we wish them wellbeing, peace, love, healing, all good things.

Listen and purchase their music here: Bern & the Brights

Follow  Bern and the Brights at:

@bernandthebrights
Facebook.com/bernandthebrights
bernandthebrights.bandcamp.com
www.bernandthebrights.com

Follow Jersey City Arts Council For My LGBTQ Arts Posts this Month

Featured

I’m excited to be promoting LGBTQ artists and Queer art-related events on the Jersey City Arts Council Facebook page this month as a way to virtually celebrate Pride Month! 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍🌈 If you are an out LGBTQ artist living in New Jersey that would like to be included in this project feel free to reach out to me at cathecht(at)gmail.com.

Cat-JCAC-LGBTQ Ats-Pride Month-2020

Jersey City Arts Council’s FB Announcement:

HAPPY PRIDE MONTH, JERSEY CITY!

JCAC is thrilled to announce that local LGBTQ Leader and Curator Catherine Hecht will help us celebrate PRIDE by promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer artists, honoring LGBTQ history in the arts, celebrating diversity, and advocating for unity, justice, and equality for all.

THANK YOU CAT!

Keep your eyes on our FB and INSTAGRAM pages in the next few weeks, for posts of inspiration and art from the LGBTQ community, and get to know more about Cat:

“I love connecting people and I’m good at it.”

Catherine Hecht is the owner of Harmony Media NJ where she shares 15 years of experience in communications, publishing, marketing, and event planning with local artists, nonprofits, and small businesses. She also works part-time for the Cultural Affairs Department at Hudson County Community College’s Dineen Hull Gallery and is the former publisher and owner of the Jersey City Independent.

Hecht has lived in Jersey City since 1999. She has curated a number of exhibitions over the years including the LGBT Bus Tour for the Jersey City Art & Studio Tour in 2018 and 2019, co-curated the 2019 Cathedral Arts Festival, and currently sits on the 14C Art Fair Advisory Board. She has been recognized by Jersey City as a Cultural Arts Leader and by Hudson County as a Women’s History Month Honoree.

She is also a founding member and past Chair of Jersey City Lesbian + Gay Outreach, the organization that founded Jersey City LGBT Pride Festival, and a past board member of Hudson Pride Center and Garden State Equality. In 2004 Hecht and her wife Beth Achenbach were the first couple registered for a Domestic Partnership in Jersey City after the law passed. In 2019 she was the Keynote Speaker at the Jersey City LGBTQ Flag Raising and Award Ceremony.

Under her leadership Jersey City Lesbian + Gay Outreach and Jersey City Pride organized Jersey City’s first Pride Festival, the first LGBT Rainbow Pride Flag Raising in Jersey City, and the first LGBT Rainbow Pride Flag Raising in Hudson County. She was also actively involved with the passing of the NJ Domestic Partnership Act, NJ Civil Union law, and Marriage Equality. She has received the following recognization for her contributions as an activist and leader in the LGBTQ community: the New Jersey Lesbian and Gay Coalition Honor Award, Jersey City Pride Vital Voice Award, United in Grace Pioneer Award, Governor’s Pen Recipient (NJ Civil Union Law Signing), as well as special recognition, citations, and proclamations from the NJ Assembly, NJ Congress, NJ Senate, the State of New Jersey, Hudson County, and the City of Jersey City.

Mom’s First Week After Testing Positive for Covid-19

Mom’s first week after testing positive for COVID-19. Chest X-Ray was clear this week. She has a slightly more pronounced cough and is feeling tired but no fever or other symptoms. We hope things stay that way. All very good news! Friday will be the one week mark of testing positive… so one week to go before being tested again.  We had our first video chat with Mom’s new tablet. She can’t see the controls but with help she has been learning how to use Alexa so she can use some features on her own. Considering everything Mom looked good and was in good spirits today. Thanks to Beth for taking photos of all of our visits and for being such a supportive and loving partner through all of this. ❤️❤️❤️

Mom at Rehab-May 16-2020

 

Mom Tested Positive for COVID-19

These photos of Mom walking this week were supposed to include a happy update about her latest progress. While that is still true, I’m sad to share that we also found out this week that she tested positive for Covid-19. The news is scary and devastating, to say the least. I honestly can’t properly put into words the emotions I’m feeling or truly convey what my Mom must be feeling right now. Beth and I were able to do a window visit and see her yesterday. Her spirits are understandably down but she looked good. No fever or cough… besides her regular COPD cough. They did move her to a room in the COVID unit and that upheaval on top of everything else also has her down. But health-wise she is doing fine right now so they continue to monitor her. They will test her again in two weeks and then again 72 hours later. If both tests come back negative I’m told she can go back to the other unit. Prayers, good thoughts, and positive vibes for my Mom during this next hurdle are greatly appreciated.

Mom Walking

COVID-19 Close to Home

Mom and Cat-July 5-2019

Mom and I – July 2019

The world has changed so dramatically since this photo I took with Mom this past summer… nothing could have prepared us. I got a call today from the rehabilitation center/nursing home where my Mom is that there is a patient that has tested positive for COVID-19. Selfishly, I’m thankful that this patient is in a different wing than my Mom. The facility has quarantined the patient and that whole wing. Still, it is unsettling. The patients at the center are almost all like my Mom — over 60 and the most vulnerable and susceptible to getting sick from this virus. My Mom is not recovered enough to leave and I feel helpless. I haven’t seen her in person for almost a month. With the new protocols in place, I can not go there to see how she is doing or what is happening there with my own eyes. I do trust that the staff and doctors are doing all they can to be careful and control the situation. And I am grateful for the care Mom is getting there. I hope that the patient with COVID-19 makes a full recovery, that no one else at the facility (staff or patients) are infected, and that my Mom continues to stay healthy and gets strong enough to stand and walk again on her own very soon.

Happy Pride NYC!

Cat and Beth NYC Pride

The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them “A bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.” ~ Tom Limoncelli

I am very grateful to my pride family in Jersey City, NYC and beyond! Thank you… to everyone at Heritage of Pride for keeping PRIDE alive 365 days a year, to all those LGBT pioneers who have come before us, and to the elders and youth of our community that keep fighting for full quality and inclusively.

Be Safe. Be Proud. Be fabulous!

Dan_Susie_Miguel_RallyJCLGO 15 Year AnniversaryEddie and Cat JC Pride

Rogue Tomatoes

Tomato-2017

Tomatoes are annuals but these two rogue plants reseeded themselves and began sprouting on their own in early May. Stranger yet… I had peppers in this pot last year.  At first I wasn’t sure if they were in fact tomatoes, they could have been pepper plants or weeds. I have some weeds that grow in my garden that look similar to tomato/pepper seedlings. But here they are, growing strong and one plant already has flowers. I’m guessing they are either cherry or yellow pear since it’s such a small pot. I seem to remember planting those varieties two years ago on the deck. I guess I’ll  know soon enough! I’ll post an update once fruits are growing.