Interview with Artist Jahni Threatt

Born and raised in Washington, DC and currently studying in college across the country in the small town of Olympia, WA, Jahni Threatt is a woman of diverse talents and interests. Determined to effect change, build community, and create on her own terms, she balances studying sustainable agriculture and working to remedy the pervasive American crisis of food deserts with creating her own art, which are vivid and meaningful pieces that truly break the mold. Determined to expand the visibility of other women artists of color, she also works to produce community events through her collaborative project "Aunty's Tea Party". Check out what this amazing woman had to say about all her endeavors!

Can you tell us more about what you are currently studying?

Yes, I currently attend Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Right now I consider my major to be sustainable agriculture, but I have also studied race and art here as well. Ideally in the future, I would like to run some type of non-profit organization that helps provide fresh food for those who do not have access to it. In terms of art, I see myself continuing to curate and work as a freelance artist. 

What inspired you to choose the path to study sustainable agriculture specifically? Are there other non-profits whose work you admire in particular with a similar mission?

I was inspired to study sustainable agriculture after completing an internship at a local community garden during my senior year of high school. Working with the garden taught me that a large percentage of the city's population are living in food deserts. In fact, DC has the nations's highest rate of food insecurity for children. A "food desert" is an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food due to distance, price, or other socioeconomic factors. A few non-profit organizations that I have worked with and have similar missions include the D.C. Central Kitchen, Capital Area Food Bank, the East Capitol Urban Farm, and the D.C. Food Policy Council.

I read on an instagram post on Art Hoe Collective, which you were featured in, where you said you find making art as a way to relieve stress - can you tell us more about how that works for you? How did you discover this?

I have always been an artist, but I didn’t realize that I was using art to cope with stress until I started taking art classes in high school. We were really learning basic painting techniques, but for some reason painting tiny shapes felt soothing.

Then I began painting self portraits. Most of my self portraits are triggered by emotionally exhausting experiences; sometimes good, sometimes bad. I try to depict how I feel at the moment or my desire to overcome the feelings in that moment. Painting gives me control over the things I cannot control in real life. I can depict myself as powerful even when I am feeling weak. I think that’s what is most satisfying, it’s almost like self healing. 

You also wrote in that same post, "I cannot fit a template created before me. I am the template for my own success." What kind of templates or prescribed roles have you encountered in your life and how do you respond to them?

When I say template, I’m referring to all the great women in my life before me. I come from a family where education is highly valued. Many women in my family are nurses, lawyers, teachers, etc. I used to tell my family I wanted to be a doctor or lawyer because that’s what I thought they wanted me to be. There are artists in my family, but no one really pursues it as a career (and the same can be said for agriculture). When I first moved across the country to study at Evergreen, no one in my family took me seriously. They didn’t take my school choice seriously, the didn’t take my major seriously - nothing. It took them months to realize that art and agriculture were my passions, and although those careers would not have worked for the women in my family, it most certainly worked for me. 

Can you tell us about Aunty’s Tea Party?

I recently got into curating this summer and was inspired to begin curating based on my experience navigating as an artist in DC. Many of the showcases in the area are male-dominated; the performers are men, the visual artists featured are men, etc. I decided to get together with two other women who felt they were also being marginalized as artists and put together an event series entitled "Aunty's Tea Party" to showcase/draw awareness to female talent in the area. 

Since last summer, I have curated three Aunty’s Tea Party events that have featured over 60 female artists from the DMV area, New York, and Delaware. Hopefully we will be able to expand these events to various venues across the city, and eventually out of the DMV to places like New York and Philadelphia.

What are some of your favorite collaborative projects that you have been involved in?

Aunty’s Tea Party was the largest collaborative project I’ve done, but I have also done work with or had art featured in Parallel Magazine, School of Doodle, and Junior High art gallery in LA. This summer my goal is to expand the Aunty’s Tea Party showcase to other cities along the east coast. 

What is your favorite medium and why?

My favorite medium is watercolor with ink. Watercolor is my first and last love. I started painting with Crayola watercolors and still use them to this day. In addition to the vibrancy of the color, there is something about the relationship between the water, the paint, and the painter that intrigues me. It’s all about control. 

Who are three womyn artists/activists who inspire you?

The number one woman who inspires me is every single woman in my family. Without their strength, love, and resiliency I would not be who I am today.

Another woman artist who inspires me is Shayna McHayle, also known as Junglepussy. I consider her to be my idol. She inspires me to speak/act with conviction and without apology in every aspect of my life. 

After reading her open letter to Mary Daly, it would be a crime for me not to name Audre Lorde. That letter spoke to me in ways literature had never before. My favorite line of hers in that is, “Do you even really read the work of black women?”

What are you currently reading?

I just started reading Black Looks: Race and Representation by bell hooks; but the book I just finished reading (and highly recommend to all WOC and anyone who considers themselves our allies) is titled This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.  

What does the future hold for you?

This summer I plan on further establishing myself as a curator. I want to plan events that I wish were happening. I want to see more women curating, operating, showcasing, and performing at events in my city. I want to expand and network with other women artists. I would also like to better myself as an artist. I rely heavily on self portraits to depict how I feel, but I would like to be able to depict the struggles of others who feel similarly. 

What does feminism mean to you?

To me, feminism is less about what makes us feminine and more about identity. Being a woman is so much more than being feminine to me, and I believe Alice Walker’s idea of womanism encompasses that. Womanism intersects race, class, gender, and sexuality and challenges racism and other forms of systemic oppression in a way that feminism never did. Women are oppressed, but we do not all suffer the same; and womanism acknowledges these differences. I identify more as a womanist because it addresses the other components of my identity (race and class) rather than just focusing on my gender.