Rooted in Love
A conversation with Seitu Jones
by Mina B; a Youth Artist with the Urbano Project
This blog was supported by an Artist Residency at the Urbano Project
“Find your own voice, find your own artistic voice so that you can change the world.”
Since he was a young boy, Seitu Jones’ has carried a deep love for the natural world. “I was always in my Grandmother's garden. I was always outside collecting insects or just watching the world.” His proclivity towards the natural world was recognized by friends and family, and he earned the nickname “Little George Washington Carver” with one particular Aunt. And despite this association with the esteemed scientist, which he rebuked as a child, he wanted to be an artist. What he didn’t know at the time, was that his Aunt saw many parts of George Washington Carter’s legacy being held by Seitu. “George Washington Carter was [also] a painter. And so: I have many interests. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but I have many interests: in the sciences, in environmental studies, in social issues, in politics, in food, I mean all these things together; I take a really interdisciplinary approach in my work.”
Today, Seitu Jones seeks to improve his community and the natural world, using art as the method through which his message is conveyed. Seitu approaches his artworks with many different mediums by exploring the creation of social practice projects to implementing his degree in Landscape Design to influence his landscape architecture projects and adding in paintings to the mix. For example, Seitu took his love and knowledge for landscaping and nature to create the Frogtown Farm in 2013, a five acre urban farm in St. Paul city park. He invited neighborhood residents to help him create and maintain the farm and demonstrate ways to organically farm foods.
One such project which garnered a lot of attention in 2014 was his project Create: The Community Meal. In this project Seitu invited people from his community to sit at a table the length of a half mile. He remembers how every day while working in his studio, “I would see my neighbors walking in one direction and then coming back going back home with bags of groceries knowing that they had just shopped at the local convenience store down the street.” Seitu realized that many people in his neighborhood were also “intimidated with making those healthy food choices because digging a little bit deeper, they said...they didn’t know how to prepare those whole ingredients, those fresh ingredients.” Being able to hear the stories of his neighbors, ultimately his idea and inspiration behind Create: The Community Meal was “wanting to give a demonstration of what a healthy meal looked like...and wanting to really make an impact, and not just changing the world, but changing the food system.” Referring to his project Create: The Community Meal and his other social practice projects, Seitu says that the reason “I did it is because I had this deep passion, and that passion comes from this love that I have for myself, for my family, for my community and the world.”
CREATE: The Community Meal
Love is truly the root of what guides Seitu’s artistic practice. His projects revolve around his love for others, and his compassion is guided by the words of great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the late John Lewis. Seitu definies his work as bridging art and activism, and incorporates his hope for racial equality with the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. who once talked about the relationship between power and love.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
When we spoke, Seitu built on this idea, sharing that “power without love is reckless and abusive and that's the kind of power we see in Washington DC to this day...and so you need to see those two things together to make good things happen and power is not a bad word, but power is the ability to change and to make change and so you need love and power together.” In those words, we understand that this is what Seitu wants to see in our community, what we all want to see in our community; Not just in our community, but across the state, across the country, and most of all, across the globe.
In May, Seitu was confronted with the murder of George Floyd which happened “in my own neighborhood, just a few blocks from where I grew up.” As a self-described artist/activist, Seitu joined leagues of artists from the Twin Cities in responding to the murder and demanding justice for George Floyd. As the cities quickly became covered with plywood to protect or cover broken businesses windows, artists recorded the emotion and demands of the community by covering these wooden boards with messages of remembrance and demands for justice. And Seitu took his street art one step farther, creating an open-source artwork, #Blues4George. “One of the ways that I could react to the murder of George Floyd...was to create a stencil of a portrait of George Floyd.” Blues for George is a publicly available artwork: everyone can download Seitu’s template to create their own portrait of and memorial for George Floyd. Through painting Geroge Floyd’s portrait in varying shades of blue, these matching images evoke the blues and all that word connotes.
After completing a monumental public artwork in Nashville in 2019, and amid the shifting focus of the moment, Seitu has decided to take time for himself to work in his studio and to invest more time into his practice of painting and portraiture. “I’ve been doing a whole series of self-portraits...between 7 and 9’ tall. These are portraits of me in a variety of roles throughout history as black men who have been endangered in some way.” As the pandemic shuts us indoors, Seitu is sitting with the love for community and the fight for justice, this time using a medium that allows for more personal reflection and quietude. Exploring his connection to the earth, this country, and our shared histories, Seitu’s developing series of work bravely faces our country’s history, and by looking back at these black men in history, Seitu calls to question what the future will bring.
When asked if he had any parting words for youth artists around the globe, Jones evoked the words and memory of John Lewis, the late congressman of Georgia and notable Civil Rights Leader, as he shared “never stop, never forget, always agitate. And as John Lewis, who just passed, said... make good trouble.”
About Seitu Jones
Artist and advocate Seitu Ken Jones harnesses the tools of visual art, infrastructure, and civic engagement to create work that links history to the present and honors the community’s assets — from its historic figures to natural resources to cultural traditions. In his public art and social practice projects, Jones pushes beyond traditional art spaces to reach people in the context of their lives and communities.
Learn more about Seitu and his work at seitujonesstudio.com