Episode 68: Jess Rogawski: Portals

Speaking with Jess was so inspiring and educational for me! I learned from her and tried to soak up her way of being with her students, with her body, within liminal space. She talked about her experiences at the intersection of many identities and how that has shaped her as a teacher, as an artist, and as a human. She shared some incredible dialogical investigations she’s facilitated with students, digging into deep questions about time, fear, and love. We got into the systems of oppression and how we as teachers can create change. I loved her way of talking about teachers as the buffer between the systems of power and our students – we can break the rules and be a protective barrier for our students. This was such a powerful and helpful conversation!!

Jess Rogawski is a San Diego based artist and educator from Chicago, IL who currently works with students from southeast San Diego and Baja California, Mexico. Her practice as an artist explores the connections between art and revolution. The portals she creates, often made collaboratively, stand simultaneously as symbols of her own journey of self-healing as well as the collective, decolonial healing needed to change the world. She aims to answer the questions:

  • What life lessons can we learn as individuals and as a society from the metaphor of a portal?
  • How can we embrace liminality as a tool of resistance in a binary world?
  • How can imagination be a form of resistance?

Her approach to art education centers student voice and well-being through dialogue and community, challenging the expectations of and hierarchies within the classroom. She invites her art students to consider their inner and outer landscapes through mindfulness practices and self-exploration in addition to observing and interpreting contemporary art and culture. The students are encouraged to critically examine the social and historical realities/systems that impact them as individuals as well as their communities, including the institution of school itself. She is invested in co-creating expressive art experiences with students to question and investigate personal culture as well as society through art and action. Now more than ever, we need students to be able to creatively and critically think about solutions for our world and to act on them.

Artist Statement:

For me, a portal is a personal symbol representing a third space – neither here nor there. My identity as a mixed, bisexual, binational artist/teacher has given me liminal insight into multiple worlds but not belonging to either. It is through my art that I seek to explore how portals are connectors. I
see portal opening as an exercise in personal and community ritual. Creative acts of alchemical power that require mutuality, collaboration, and most importantly, embodied conscious attention in the presence of self and others. Often these portals are made with groups of people, adding another element of spontaneity to the creation. Each portal is as unique as the moment it was made as well as each person who was involved in creating it.

My artistic approach mirrors how I approach the art of my life. Making so many mistakes. Going with the flow. I open portals in a flow state. Listening, receiving answers, trying it out along the way. You can always work with what has happened. You just have to get creative. I never know what they are going to look like ahead of time until the very point that they say they are done. What might feel like a failure in the moment of making the painting completely disappears over time as the portal gains power and appreciation as a whole entity. All mistakes become perfectly imperfect in retrospect. Materially, I am resourceful. I reimagine, combine, and make the most of what I have available to me. I use a combination of spray paint, tempera and acrylic paint, India ink, yarn, sharpie, and other recycled/found materials. In addition, the surfaces I paint on are either repurposed or salvaged from alleyways or thrift stores.


Mindful Monday student work:

Student Work