Photography, for San Juan Islander Jenny Rice, is about reality.
“There is a huge difference between a painting of a nude figure and a photo of a nude figure,” said Rice. “A photo has a rawness that can’t be denied.”
That rawness is seen in images like “Americana,” where the lifelong islander sits topless at a table strewn with prescription pill bottles, cigarettes and an alcohol flask labeled “We drool 4 fossil fuel.” Her nipples are covered with barcodes, her hair wrapped in an American flag.
The art is about protesting, she said, whether that’s Americans’ addictions to oil and pharmaceuticals — like in “Americana” — or the current presidential administration. Her first print was published online, last Inauguration Day. In it, a sign that reads “not my president” covers her naked body.
Rice isn’t about confirming.
“Why should we have to adhere to any type of social norm or government construct of any kind when the American government is an insult of itself?” asked Rice. “The truth is, we don’t have to adhere to anything.”
She is no stranger to controversy. For roughly four years, Rice battled lawsuits over a shared, private road off her San Juan Island property. It was to be the island’s first marijuana farm after state legislators made it legal in 2014, but neighbors objected to a business next to their homes, as outlined in the easement’s agreement. Ultimately, Rice lost the lawsuit, but found her voice.
“I protested against the lawsuit simply by publicizing what was happening,” she said about her social media posts on the case.
Recently, she was a finalist in Colorado’s Center for Fine Arts contests. Now, she’s participating in her first arts event, the San Juan Island Summer Arts Festival, this month.
The festival runs from 4 to 10 p.m., every Friday in August at Brickworks, with about 30 vendors of artists, including jewelry makers, bakers, brewers, clothes designers, and more. Different musicians, both local and off-island, play each week, while most of the vendors also rotate. Bellingham’s Americana band Polecat plays Aug. 25.
According to the festival’s director, Claire Wright, the event was created, last summer, after two other island arts markets disbanded, leaving a void for local artists. Sales help to support the festival’s producer, the San Juan County Arts Council.
The festival, said Wright, features untraditional artists, who might not be displayed in galleries, like her own textile business.
“I’m passionate about supporting craftsmanship and helping artists makes a living,” she said.
Rice’s work isn’t in galleries, either, she admits, but there’s still time.
“Protest photography has a way of lingering,” said Rice. “It’s the classic photos and art forms from social movements that are etched in our minds’ eyes when we think about times of major social upheaval.”