Jennifer T. Ley: MVA Open Studios

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Jennifer T. Ley, work in progress in the studio, 2021, Paper, Anishinaabe Bimishimo tin jingles, watercolor, digital photos, Photo courtesy the artist

Manufacturers Village Artist Studios, located in an 1880’s historic industrial complex at 356 Glenwood Avenue in East Orange, NJ, will feature the work of over 60 different artists at its annual open studios weekend, Friday 10/15 (VIP Preview) and Saturday thru Sunday from 11-5, 10/16 and 10/17.

Jennifer Ley’s art practice spans diverse media over 40+ years. At its core is a commitment to community building and social activism. Her short film and photo Xerox work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. A formative member of the online e-literature community. Ley spent the late 20th and early 00’s creating hypertext visual work for the internet and publishing online literary ‘magazines’ on what was then a nascent art form. Her current work seeks to shed light on the crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women by amplifying the voices of native leaders and activists in the field. Ley co-chairs the Montclair Art Museum’s Friends of Native American Art and is on their Art Committee.

Tell me about yourself and your art.

I took a studio space at MVA last year to give my art a dedicated place to breathe. So much of my practice over the past twenty years has revolved around digital input, sandwiched between other aspects of life, while earlier works (ceramics, paintings, film, old computer files) got stashed in the attic. What started as an inventory of 40 years of making (having work from your early career featured in a MoMA show can make you see there might be wisdom in structure) I wasn’t sure what would come next. I’m pleased to share new work has emerged.

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Finding the Thread, 2021, Paper, Anishinaabe Bimishimo tin jingles, watercolor, digital photos, Photo courtesy the artist

What will we see in your studio?

I have been working on an installation to illuminate the lives of several individuals who are among the 28 indigenous women and girls missing or murdered in Big Horn County, Montana (total population 13,387 – 2019) since 1990. Numbers and statistics surrounding this issue are staggering. Some families have lost multiple women and girls to this crisis. 84% of Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetimes, are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes, 2 times more likely to experience rape/sexual assault.

With the appointment of Deb Haaland to Secretary of the Interior and several recently passed laws, mechanisms are starting to emerge to help, but the human cost is permanent. The years pass too quickly and more women and girls go missing in a desolate part of the country where resource extraction has created boom towns and ‘man-camps’ with money to burn and nowhere to spend it. As my research moved past numbers and started to explore the cases surrounding 3 of the 28, I flashed back to the year I taught art in the far northern part of Wisconsin in a town of 1,000 people. It was not uncommon for girls to get pregnant in my small classes.They had no way out, no support system. But they didn’t go missing.

If knowledge can become power, I hope that what you’ll see in my studio will move you to take action; that we can make a difference. One more life lost is one too many.

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The Line Up, 2021, Paper, Anishinaabe Bimishimo tin jingles, watercolor, digital photos, Photo courtesy the artist
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What They Called Her, 2021, Paper, Anishinaabe Bimishimo tin jingles, watercolor, Photo courtesy the artist