by Jessica Harris
Fearless. Female. Ferocious. These words perfectly describe artist and designer Veronica Jackson.
They’re also words from the subtitle of her latest curation, Black Joy Is: Ferocious, Fearless, Forever, Female, For Me, running at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) until March 25, 2023.
Featuring Black, female-identifying artists from Charlottesville and Virginia, Black Joy Is… is a powerful examination of how Black joy is understood and activated, particularly from the perspective of Black women. This lens seems to be fitting for curator Veronica Jackson, whose work examines the intersection of Blackness, feminism, and visual culture.
Hailing from northeast Washington D.C., Veronica is a fourth-generation Washingtonian with roots in Virginia. Several years ago, she moved back to her ancestral home in Bedford, VA to care for her mother on land that her great-grandparents owned.
Veronica credits her mother with introducing her to the world of art and design. “The foundation of my aesthetics came from my mother,” she shared. The two of them used to drive around D.C. and look at homes in wealthier areas. This early exposure prompted her to take an interest in the environment constructed around her, eventually leading her to pursue architecture and design.
However, upon graduating from the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, she realized that she didn’t want to strictly be an architect. She took a job working for a lighting and exhibit design firm, and found ways to tell stories through her work. “I was a storyteller but didn’t realize it…and so I link architecture and storytelling and art because they’re all connected,” she said.
After five years, she decided to try her hand at freelance design, and soon decided to permanently chart her own path by creating The Jackson Design Group. Yet, this work was not all Veronica felt called to achieve.
“Around 2011, I decided that I needed to contribute to humanity better,” she shared. She had been collecting art and having many conversations with artists about how important their work was to society. “I decided, okay, if I have this knowledge about what visual art is and the transformative power it holds, how do I get this message out into the environment?” she asked. “Because and especially as people of color or anyone who’s ever felt othered, understanding the impact of visual culture is paramount; what we put in our visual environment matters and affects our psyche.”
So, in 2014, she moved to San Francisco to pursue a master’s degree in the Visual & Critical Studies Program at California College of the Arts. Her understanding of visual culture and her own personal experiences led her to pursue art-making more intentionally. She said to a friend, “I have a piece of art in me that wants to come out.” The friend replied: “Veronica, you have more than one piece of art in you.”
And that she did. Now having created multiple pieces, her work is powerful and unabashed, and brings to bear her identity as a Black, female, and now since moving back to Virginia, Appalachian artist.
Her experiences with racism and sexism in her career and personal life illuminate the intersection of invisibility and hypervisibility as a Black woman, and this dichotomy inspires much of her work. It is even in the title of her exhibition The Burden of Invisibility. This exhibit is currently on view at the Arts Center in Orange through March 25, 2023.
Yet Veronica’s work is not relegated solely to burdens of Black womanhood. It is also centered on radiance, determination, and reclamation of the Black experience. And Black Joy Is… beautifully captures these pluralities.
The exhibition features 9 artists from the surrounding Central Virginia area, namely:
- Bolanle Adeboye
- Zoë Charlton
- Tori Cherry
- IBe’ Crawley
- Veronica Jackson
- Somé Louis
- Benita Mayo
- Tobiah Mundt
- Kori Price
It is an understatement to say their work in this exhibition is impactful. It is impossible to not feel jubilation and solace radiating off the gallery walls. From the moment you walk into the V. Earl Dickinson Building at PVCC, a palpable energy exudes from the paintings, sculptures, photographs, film, and mixed media work.
Veronica curated the exhibition which entailed assembling various artists and stewarding a range of artwork that “encompassed multiple mediums which illustrated and responded to the same focused message—Black joy.”
“I love curating,” she said. “I love bringing together disparate visions based on a common theme to a common venue. And I think that’s the storyteller in me.”
When asked how she defines Black joy, Veronica believes it stems from self-acceptance, self-awareness, and self-love. “One of my mantras is love yourself most, and that is not a selfish statement or self-absorbed statement. It’s about self-preservation. Because once you love yourself most and really inculcate that ideal into your belief system, then you can truly and sincerely give to other people.” And she believes, along with Dr. Cornel West, that “the only way to combat white supremacy is through Black love. And Black love is not limited to just Black people.”
Veronica hopes that all who leave the exhibit “may understand Black women differently, but they can also understand that there’s no monolithic Black woman. That we are all different people…all humans are different.” And, as evidenced by the “For Me” in the exhibition’s title, Veronica hopes that all who partake of this work—regardless of how they identify—celebrate Black joy.
While she’s already planning for upcoming projects and residencies, right now, Veronica is soaking in this experience. “What makes me happy is making art, immersing myself in projects, and using my creativity for the benefit of society,” she said. Suffice to say, Black Joy Is… and Veronica’s work certainly seeks to do just that.
To see the Black Joy Is… exhibition, visit PVCC’s V. Earl Dickinson Building at 501 College Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22902. Gallery Hours can be found here. Veronica will also return to PVCC on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at 6:30 p.m. to give a lecture titled “A Constellation of Blackness: Rendering Invisibility, Hypervisibility, Devaluation, and Triumph.”