Since the beginning of her art career, Rose Jaffe used art as a tool for social activism.
“Growing up in D.C., I was raised going to marches with my parents. I started doing political cartoons for my college newspaper which was a great way for me to connect my love of drawing with a political message.”
Jaffe continues to incorporate activism through her work, whether it be a recent mural depicting NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps and a young person with a microscope as a way to encourage STEM programming; or partnering with Republic Restoratives Distillery to create the design label for their Dissent Gin, proceeds from which directly go to the National Network of Abortion Funds.
The recent finalist for City Paper’s Best Visual Artist in D.C. shared with District Fray her journey to painting murals, what makes murals unique and why they are essential to equitable public art.
District Fray: Why is it important for you to incorporate social activism into your artwork?
Rose Jaffe: After college, I moved back to D.C. and ended up sharing studio space with a group of artists doing work with groups coming to town for direct actions, protests and marches. I learned a ton from them about amplifying messages through art and really enjoyed the process of using art as a tool for social justice and social change. Art has always played an important role in revolution, disseminating information and crossing language barriers. I stay inspired by the role art has played in our social fabric and continue to explore that today.
What is unique about murals compared to working with other mediums? What are the perks and what are the disadvantages?
I love murals for so many reasons! I like knowing I am adding to the cultural landscape of an area. Public art is so uniquely special because it is just that — public. Anyone can view and interact with pieces outside, and in a society where there is certain gatekeeping around galleries and certain museums, I have always been drawn to art on the street for anyone to enjoy. I believe art can be a powerful tool to connect people through conversation, to tell a story or just add color, brightness and interest to an area. And beyond that — painting at a large scale is just really fun.
How would you characterize D.C.’s mural scene compared to other cities?
It’s a bit hard to compare street art and mural scenes city to city, especially internationally. Some cities have allowed a proliferation of street art and funded murals on a scale not seen in U.S. cities. That being said, I think D.C. has a wonderful scene. Murals DC (D.C.’s city-funded mural initiative) has been around for 10 years now, and I think they’ve done a good job at adding some beautiful pieces to our streets. Some of my first significant commissions were through that program, and it has allowed me to build my portfolio, meet other mural artists and create meaningful works of art. Private developers in this area have also hopped on the mural circuit in the hopes of attracting folks to new neighborhoods and buildings. D.C., as we all know, is growing fast — and with that has seen more displacement than many other cities. Ultimately, I don’t think you can buy culture through murals, but I do know this area is full of wonderful creatives and when artists are supported to make work that speaks to their truth and supports the creative economy, it can lead to beautiful pieces that everyone can enjoy.
Photos by Brandon Chen.
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