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Brief Encounters with Art: Randolph Street Community Garden

Inspired by the ways in which COVID-19 has limited and transformed our in-person access to and experience of galleries, festivals, museums, and other designated art spaces, Brief Encounters with Art investigates the power, potential, and complexities of encountering art in passing moments and unexpected locations. If you have suggestions, ideas, or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].

This week, TJ encounters another work from the collaborative art intiative The Great ARTdoors, Ja Nelle Pleasure’s Seeds of Injustice. 

Location: Randolph Street Community Garden

Installation format: Mixed media encased in yellow box

Artist: Ja Nelle Pleasure

Artist Statement: Seeds of Injustice

It was born out of a frustration of the violence in the world and within our backyard in Champaign County. Life is taken for granted on so many levels and people nowadays have been hit so hard with pain after pain and struggle after struggle, that I feel we have become a nation of numb feeling characters. I chose the garden for a couple of reasons. One the serene outlook of food growing, the strong sense of community of those who have a plot there. The fact that the spot is nestled in between two school buildings one that is kept up and the other falling apart also speaks to our children and the climate in our educational system. The biggest voice of the entire piece is gun violence it has broken my heart to see mothers like myself tear-filled because their babies won’t ever enjoy growing up or enjoying life because it was cut short by someone who had no real care for human life. It’s haunting and frustrating and I don’t always know what to do. How to react. It causes my soul to tire out. So I put all of those thoughts, frustrations, anger-filled tirades into a box looking back at us. I want people to feel something when they look at this piece.

Viewing access:

The corner location of the artwork at the southern entrance of the community garden makes it visible to those approaching the garden by road or sidewalk. The work is encased within a bright yellow box atop a wooden pole. In order to understand the work, the viewer is required to come close. The music of the birds and leaves in the garden provide a peaceful environment to encounter the work.

Close-up photo of interior of Seeds of Injustice with the names of victims of gun violence. Photo from 40 North Facebook

My brief encounter, in brief:

At Randolph Street Community Garden there is a yellow tree. The roots of this tree grow out of 12 seeds. The names of these seeds are listed: Martez Taylor, Christopher Kelly, Toto Kaiyewu, Gregory Brown, Jasma Cobb, Edgar Hoults, Micheal Rich, Kiwane Carrington, Donnell Clemons, Brian Chesley, Renee Holt, and Dahari Banks. It is important to list the names of these seeds because each one is a member of our community that has unjustly lost their life as a result of gun violence. Although this tree might appear to tell a grim story, in reality it does the opposite. From these seeds of injustice buried beneath the ground grows a tree that guides us with strength towards a better future. Within the beautiful curls of the afro that form the foliage adorning the figure’s head are antidotes such as resilience, leadership, and thoughtfulness that grow from its branches. In a year that has produced so much pain and conflict, this tree provides us with courage to work collectively to demand better for ourselves and those around us hurt the most.

Photo with full view of Ja Nelle Pleasure's work Seeds of Injustice at the Randolph Street Community Gardens. Photo from 40 North Facebook.

Closing thoughts:

In conclusion, this artwork is filled with lyricism. From the location of a community garden nested between two schools to the expressiveness of each stroke, stain and residue, the artist ties the site location, the materiality and the subject matter into one coherent unit. The artwork requires of us a conscientious rekindling and revisiting to understand its depth. I know I’ll be making multiple encounters to see which new fruit I may pluck from this tree and you should too.

All photos from 40 North Facebook

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