Q&A: Illustrator Jennifer White Johnson brings justice for people with disabilities to creative culture
name: Jennifer White-Johnson (formerly Jennifer White-Torres)
Homeport: I was born in Washington DC, grew up in Prince George County, MD, and currently live in Baltimore, MD
You pay: Puertorriqueña-African American
My mother was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She moved to Washington DC, where she met an amazing black man from South Chicago. They had me in the 80s, and I was born and raised in the DMV. I was two years old when I first visited Puerto Rico.
What was your journey to become an illustrator?
Art is in my blood. When I was growing up, I saw my parents, two very spiritual people, use their art as a beautiful creative outlet while working for the government. My mom loves to DIY and would make zines for me growing up. My dad loves to draw and has already painted an entire mural on the wall of his apartment in Washington.
It’s liberating not to try to fit into a box. [I’m] an artist with an autoimmune disease and ADHD. My method of artistic creation has never really adapted to a specific style; I am open to all types of artistic creation. I fell in love with photography, digital illustration and collage because I could combine and remix lots of visual elements and create immersive photo illustrations. This format is perfect for zine making!
My 8 year old autistic son, Joy, is my greatest muse, as well as my sincere love for creative culture and artistic spaces of justice for people with disabilities. I find inspiration for my work when I am immersed in the movement work of a creative community left out of artistic narratives.
What makes an illustration vivid?
I tend to gravitate towards bright colors, textures, and bold symbols paired with a punchy message. A willingness to experiment with different creative methods of manufacturing may also [catalyze] new ways to deliver messages to an audience. I once dug deep to see if I could infuse native Taino Borinquen symbols into my work. The final piece resulted in a fun and playful design that I created with my son to pay homage to our Taino Indian ancestors from Puerto Rico.
Favorite place of inspiration:
Definitely the zine festivals and art book fairs. Seeing so many stories from such a community of drug makers always inspires me to create more!
What music do you listen to illustrating?
When I work, Kali Uchis, Maye, Amber Mark and Sky. Also, the new Nao & Kacey Musgraves albums put me in a strong creative mood.
Unmissable place of creation:
I have a co-working space that I sometimes share with my son. We filled the room with posters and our favorite artwork. Sharing a creative space with an 8-year-old during the pandemic showed me [that] there can always be more room for more playfulness and authenticity in my work and my creative practice.
What does Latin culture mean to you at home?
I loved growing up in the DMV area (DC, MD, VA). From 5 to 13 years old, I had the advantage of attending a very diverse Latin American church where I first met my friends from Guatemala, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Mexico. and Honduras. I was immersed in such a moving Latin and Caribbean cultural mix, I learned to have a deep sense of pride. So much music and food!
Unmissable visual references:
For Street Art & Graffiti references I turn to Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine
For Zine Making references, I turn to Neta Bomani, Homie House Press, and Ablezine
For illustration references, I turn to Afro-Brazilian illustrator and designer Andrea Pippins
What’s the next step for you?
If you are in Washington, you can currently view an Artist Profile video showcasing my work as a disability justice activist which is part of the “Up From The People: Protest and Change” exhibit at the library. Martin Luther King Jr .. If you are on the West Coast, you can see my work at the Palo Alto Art Center as part of the Art of Disability Culture exhibit. Then, I am currently in creation mode for my next photo zine which will give visibility to ADHD and women and women with disabilities.