Jennifer Jesseph’s art is cut from a different cloth.
Most portraits aren’t stitched, but for Jesseph, sewing was the perfect medium for presenting the essence of who she calls “female heroes.” Her sewn portraiture exhibit, titled “Who Is She?” is currently showing at the Rochester Art Center.
Through the exhibit, Jesseph hopes to draw attention to the stories of women, especially those of color or with disabilities, who have contributed to society but have been largely left out of mainstream narratives.
“Let’s face it, women of color and women with disabilities do have a harder time being acknowledged and lifted up for their accomplishments,” Jesseph said.
Jesseph’s concept for the exhibit came from learning about Lilly Yokoi, the highest-paid circus act in the world in the 1960s. She was known for performing incredibly complex bicycle tricks in high heels on a golden BMX bike.
“Why don’t we know more about her?” Jesseph asked. “I suspect it’s because she is a woman and her family originates from Japan. In my mind, she’s a great American athlete, and almost obscure in her contributions.”
After discovering Yokoi, Jesseph searched for other outstanding women leaders to feature in her exhibit, which includes portraits of women who were astrophysicists, anti-Nazi activists, and motocross riders.
“My goal is to inspire curiosity and discovery in the viewers, hoping they will engage with these stories and that it will bring a change of perspective, where the lives of female heroes will become more common in our recordings of history,” Jesseph’s artist statement reads. Each portrait includes a paragraph detailing some of its subject’s accomplishments.
Jesseph lives in Pine Island, and is a self-taught fiber and mixed-media artist. While she also works in watercolors, acrylics and oils, she said the stitched portraits that make up the “Who Is She?” exhibit “brought her closer to the stories” of her subjects since they required a “meticulously detailed, repetitive and slow process.” She describes her sewn portraits as “a way of painting with a different medium.”
The portraits Jesseph has created include intricate patterns of stitches that replicate swirling hair, facial expressions, and fine details in eyes and mouths. Her works also include colorful fabrics, fuzzy felts, and textured laces to replicate everything from skin to hijabs.
Jesseph’s exhibit was completed through the assistance of an Emerging Artist Grant she won from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council in conjunction with the Rochester Art Center’s ROOTED Southeastern Minnesota Exhibition Program.
Learn more about the exhibit at Jesseph’s virtual Artist Talk 5 p.m. Thursday, April 8, on Zoom.
If you go
What: “Who Is She?”
Where: Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through July 11
Cost: Free through May 9; RAC general admission afterward.