Jessica Cisse

It Started With A Single Pale Opal

My work explores putting black bodies in spaces of comfort while confronting the trauma that comes with it. Throughout the years, I’ve noticed that black bodies in paintings and gallery spaces were almost always depicted in spaces of trauma or pain and I didn’t want to contribute to this archetype that black people are placed in. I want to show that Black people are more than just their trauma and can exist in spaces that are typically geared towards our white counterparts.

I’m interested in Rococo and Baroque art because of how it depicts comfort. I also noticed that black people were never in these spaces so I wanted to infiltrate these spaces that weren’t made for us. When I first started thinking about ideas for my thesis, I knew I wanted to incorporate my family in somehow. My mother has chests of photos taken over the decades that I’ve always been fascinated with as a child and I started looking at them again when I started my research. I started taking images and used them as reference for the drawings that I was creating. I have an interest in tapping into memory space because a lot of these images I’m drawing from were from a time where I wasn’t born or I don’t remember. The figures in the drawings are clearer and more consistent compared to my backgrounds which are distorted or imaginary to play with this idea of memory space. This body of work has made me realize several things. I realized that I’m detached from several aspects of my life like my culture and my parents’ stories. I’ve also realized while creating this body of work that an artist can’t always make happy work. While it was beautiful to depict my family members in these spaces, I also realized that the photos and memories I was tapping into also carried a lot of trauma that I felt like I couldn’t ignore. While yes, it sounds like a contradiction to my original statement, I feel like the work I’ve created tiptoes between the two ideas I’ve presented. My mother’s middle name is Opal, so in a way this body of work is a tribute to her because her photos were what pushed me into this journey of self-discovery in my art.