By Alicia Venter
What is joy?
This is what Jardley Jean-Louis tries to answer in their newest exhibition, “Joy – This Place I Land,” which will be on display at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) from April 6.
As a Black and Queer person, joy is in the small moments for award-winning artist Jean-Louis. It’s these moments they portray — sharing an intimate moment with a loved one on the train, fixing dinner with family and a Halloween with family are some of which they depict in their work. Through character-driven artistic expression, Jean-Louis portrays their intersectionality and the way in which joy shows itself in their life, often in the “light moments.”
“The expression of joy — what does it look like, especially as a Black person?” Jean-Louis posed in a Zoom interview with the Queens Ledger. “What does it mean to thrive?”
In their exhibit, which is a collection of digital art, they tackle what is making them happy right now as well as what could bring happiness in their future.
“A lot of my work is about simple life moments. It’s not about anything that’s some supernatural thing,” Jean-Louis said. Though they were originally going to do about six pieces, they decided on doing more works once they saw the space available in JCAL.
Though born in Harlem, the 32-year-old was raised on Liverpool Street in Jamaica, currently lives in Forest Hills and considers Queens their home. Art has been a consistent part of their life, as Jean-Louis briefly studied Illustration at the School of Visual Arts. However, they considered the classroom space stifling, depriving them of their passion. They have since reignited their love for the arts, producing both digital illustrations and films. Jean-Louis is currently working on an animated film about gay culture and the AIDs epidemic in the 80s, particularly to bring more visibility to Black gay people and the Haitian gay community.
Jean-Louis themselves are second-generation American, with their parents immigrating from Haiti.
The impact of the Haitian culture in their upbringing can be seen in the work, “Heritage.” In one particular piece, “Closing Halloween,” Jean-Louis paints the picture of friends enjoying simple time together on Halloween day.
“We’re waiting for the trick-or-treaters to come, and we are just watching something while waiting for them,” Jean-Louis said.
Another piece, “To Be Black, Gay, and Gay,” Jean-Louis describes as being “about Queerness and intimacy. It’s about love and the Black identity and just having it in the public.”
Though the exhibit is centered around the Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) identity, Jean-Louis wanted to make sure to include work that extends to those who do not fall within that identity.
“I do want to make sure it’s inclusive,” they said. “I want for people to feel the joy to learn, and also feel from looking at the work and say, ‘oh, that this isn’t something that different from what I have in my own life.’”
JCAL is hosting an opening reception and artist talk this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. for free, with registration at https://www.jcal.org/show-details/opening-reception-artist-talk-joy-this-place-i-land.