by Jessica Slice
Jen Bloomer, the San Francisco-based artist at Radici Studios, and I both grew up in the 1980s with the unexamined patriotism that emerges from privilege and insulation. Now in our 30s, we’ve witnessed some of the darker realities of how our country treats the most vulnerable and that education pushed both of us through hopelessness, timidity, apathy, and finally, careful activism.
Jen’s art is one form that her powerful activism takes. She creates and teaches in order to build community and support movements. Her murals, paintings, and drawings pepper the Bay Area and protests. Her deceptively simple color palate transfers easily to posters and t-shirts and conveys the call for justice, peace, and care powerfully.
I met Jen over the phone in early December, and it felt like reconnecting with an old friend. She is thoughtful, humble, and open. We are both white mothers of nonwhite children and we have both wrestled with the hard questions that emerge when one gives any thought to positionality in activism.
The term positionality emerged in philosophical circles in the 1920s as a way to acknowledge the impact of context on knowledge. Now a buzzword in social justice movements, it refers to one’s social identities and how those influence power and perception. For example, my understanding of and experience with immigration, as a white woman born in the United States, differs significantly from a Mexican man in Florida on a Temporary Migrant Worker visa.
The ethical burden on someone with social privilege who seeks to advocate for someone with less is to examine, constantly, what they know, what they assume, and what they may be imposing on others. It’s incumbent on those with power in social justice movements to share it, not to use it to indebt others.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in International Studies at Middlebury College, Jen spent years living outside the U.S. and studying expressive art therapy. During those years she worked with immigrant populations and taught in Guatemala and through those experiences became aware of the unfairness embedded in the immigration system.
While her perspective shifted as she spent more time abroad, it was meeting her now-husband that made the issue personal. The process of obtaining permission for her husband, a man of Eritrean-Italian descent living in Italy, to move back to the United States with her was extremely difficult, stressful, and terrifying. She considered how difficult the process must be for those with a less straightforward path or without the legal resources that her family could access.
Her husband left East Africa when he was three-years-old and a member of his family traveled by foot through Egypt, seeking asylum. Those personal connections helped make immigration, which can be daunting and distant, personal and immediate.
It was after becoming pregnant during the 2016 Presidential election season that Jen’s activist roots grew deeper. Picturing her children growing up in a country where the leadership was expressing xenophobia and racism unabashedly made her need to participate in resistance urgently. She started creating one or two-color drawings and paintings to be used at protests. After Donald Trump was elected, she spent a season creating art in response to each new horrific development, particularly relating to immigration.
She realizes now that the politically reactive pattern that she found herself in became angry, unhealthy, and unsustainable. Creating art every time something terrible happened meant that she was responding to fear and not initiating joy. Taking a step back she decided that the best way for her to protest hate was to imbue her process with the opposite—to put creativity and connection into the world.
To do this, in addition to her collaborative murals and activist art, she now creates spaces and moments in which people can tap into their own creativity and hope. She brings people together in her studio and around the Bay Area to collaborate. It’s these moments of joy and deep resonance that feels like the most effective protest to an environment permeated with anxiety and fury.
Considering our positionality reminds us that no one is a blank slate. Our identities and histories influence how we see the world, how much and what kind of power we bring into it, and the degree to which we have the option of turning away. For those of us whose backgrounds have shielded us from some of the more devastating and unjust realities, activism can feel daunting. For years Jen elected to advocate for others quietly—through voting, reading, and listening. The call to speak out became louder and she uses her voice now, with caution and intention.
She described the responsibility of speaking from a position of privilege beautifully. “Ally is an active word. It’s not a place you rest.” To advocate justly, we must continue to read, learn, and apologize when we hurt someone. We must continue to pay attention to those at the center of the story, step aside, and always stay open to change.
Jen Bloomer is the founder of Radici Studios. She has painted and taught art in Guatemala, Chile, Italy, Eritrea, Kenya, Thailand, India, Colorado and California. After earning a BA in International Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, she completed a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Painting at SACI in Florence, Italy, and a Masters Degree in Expressive Arts Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies. For the last two decades, Jen has worked with people of all ages and backgrounds giving space for them to find their unique creative voice in the world through the arts. She believes that using creativity to share our truths and the act of listening to one another's stories are an essential part of a more equitable world. She lives and works in San Francisco with her Eritrean-Italian husband and two children.
Jessica Slice is a disabled woman and an M.S.W. candidate at Columbia University where she advocates for accessibility in higher education. She is at work on a memoir about acquired disability, pain, transracial adoption and motherhood.