Bravo: Emoni Jackson

This emerging artist explores themes of transformation and identity.
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Emoni Jackson
Emoni Jackson. Photo by Tim Engle.

When Emoni Jackson (she/they) feels stressed or perplexed about an issue, she turns to nature to guide her through her thoughts. If she’s not painting, or working, she’s out in the forest.

One afternoon, Jackson was overcome with a burning feeling that something was calling out to them—they just had to listen. So they did what they always do: seek answers amid the thick of the rustling trees. But as they sat meditating in the quiet for hours, focusing intently on the message and guidance they craved, nothing came.

Feeling slightly defeated, Jackson began the steep, serpentine trek back up to their vehicle when suddenly, thoughts started to flow.

As they slowly rounded each corner, Jackson says they felt like a snake chasing a white rabbit, a symbol they see as a “good omen.” Then, one appeared.

Box No. 1 Tokenism by emoni jackson
“Box No. 1 Tokenism”

“I was about to turn a corner when that thought came to me. So I round the corner, and there’s a white rabbit in the middle of the trail. When do you see white rabbits in the wild?” Jackson asks. “I got scared. I was like, ‘That didn’t just happen. Those thoughts did not just come to my head and there was not just a white rabbit.’ It was sitting in the middle of the trail facing me. This just came to me. I was asking for something.”

honesty by Emoni Jackson
“Honesty”

Jackson’s visit from the white rabbit inspired her debut art show “Good Omen” at The Print gallery, located in the Ice Blocks, in December. More than 150 people in attendance on the show’s opening night viewed Jackson’s 42 original works spanning acrylic, graphite and colored pencil.

within by emoni jackson
“Within”

As an emerging artist, Jackson, 23, explores themes of transformation, identity and human connection, letting intuition guide the androgynous figures that surface from the canvas.

With the local visual arts community still recovering from almost two years of virtual exhibitions, lost incomes and disconnection from audiences, emerging artists such as Jackson are eager to share their creativity and their message so that art becomes good omens for those open to receive them.

Art Awakening
A self-described secretive, private person, especially when it comes to expressing emotional vulnerability, Jackson says it was art that forced them to explore who they truly wanted to be, not just as a full-time artist navigating a career, but as a human being in search of greater purpose.

“[Art] gives me the excuse to be vulnerable that I wouldn’t otherwise have. It allows me to be vulnerable while still being cryptic, and I only have to actually be that vulnerable with people who care,” she says. “The subject matter started to revolve around my identity a lot—my identity as a woman, my identity sexuality-wise, my identity as a Black woman, just my general place in the world.”

emoni jackson
Photo by Tim Engle.

Art became Jackson’s visual diary. Once she finished a piece, she’d take a step back to breathe in all the beautiful colors that shaded the genderless figures of her mind’s eye. When “Good Omen” opened to the public, Jackson’s honest depictions drawn from her subconscious were open to interpretation.

“The takeaway from that show that I wanted is that the difficulty that comes with change, that comes with introspection when you’re not used to doing it, that comes with transformation, that comes with evolution—it’s a good omen. It’s a good thing,” Jackson says. “You’re on your way to being a fuller, more authentic expression of yourself. It’s celebrating the transformation, celebrating the process of figuring it out.”

Jackson tends to remove societal labels, such as gender and race, from their abstract figures, making them appeal to more people.

The ambiguity of Jackson’s otherworldly forms, with their elongated necks and limbs and intricately detailed faces flush with emotion, is what pulled art curator Faith McKinnie into Jackson’s orbit.

McKinnie found Jackson’s work on Instagram and ended up including two paintings, “Intuition” and “Digital Dilemma,” in the Built By Black History curation last year at DOCO. There, the work of six artists was projected on the large outdoor screens that line L Street near the entrance to Golden 1 Center.

“Through exploring more of [themself], she’s helping us find ourselves,” McKinnie says. “As a biracial woman, there’s definitely this space she kind of exists in, between Black and white. But the art takes away gender and race, and it’s just a person. When I look at the work, it’s very personal to me, and you see yourself in it. It’s not me, but I can see this struggle and challenge through identity and race and culture and gender.”

McKinnie, the founder of the Faith J. McKinnie Gallery and founding director of Black Artist Foundry, invited Jackson to curate a show in January at The Shadow Box gallery, housed inside McKinnie’s main exhibit space on R Street.

At the time of this writing, Jackson, along with fellow multidisciplinary artist Ember de Boer, was also finalizing plans for a 16-by-40-foot mural that will welcome visitors to McKinnie’s gallery. Jackson says they also look forward to working with McKinnie on plans for a showcase of Black artists’ work.

digital dilemma
“Digital Dilemma”

“Our relationship expanded off of me just looking for digital images into now actually being able to place their work into a space,” McKinnie says. “I really love Emoni’s work with figures. She’s an amazing painter and there’s this confluence of identity and reflection. You can see how thoughts and emotions show up in [their] work, but she also challenges the viewers to really go a bit deeper into self-reflection and healing.”

A Deeper Connection
Art as a tool for self-reflection is what drove Jackson to create the nonbinary figures during the initial lockdowns of the pandemic. As she delved deeper into the question of who she was, Jackson began to subconsciously remove labels that tend to categorize us as human beings.

By removing those boundaries, she says her work then becomes a reflection of the viewer and what they’re going through, personally, when they happen to stand in front of one of Jackson’s paintings.

“I started off making a lot of art about being Black, and that is great. There’s a place for that. But I wanted to connect with people on a human level, not a skin-deep level,” Jackson says. “Being able to connect with people on that level and feel seen and heard in that way, it’s validating for me. But then, to know that it’s so validating for other people, too—it’s the coolest thing ever. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re left out from that experience.”

lacuna
“Lacuna”

Jackson hopes viewers will be open to finding their own white rabbit when they need it most.

“As a person, if I’m coming into your life and we’re connecting on a deep level, I want it to be a sign for people that they can trust themselves. You can trust the universe, the greater good, or whatever perspective is more comfortable,” Jackson says. “Trusting yourself, the universe, or God, or whoever—that’s what I want to be for people. Not just who am I to myself, but who am I going to be for other people? Who am I going to be for the world?”

Follow Emoni Jackson on Instagram @emoni.art. Visit emoni.art for more information on future exhibitions and to buy prints.