‘Virtual Access JC Fridays’ includes artist Theda Sandiford, who’s knitting way to a more balanced life. This article originally appeared on nj.com.
When artist Theda Sandiford moved to Jersey City 20 years ago, the many positives that still continue to be there for her were part of a tapestry that was more affordable.
With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the multimedia artist and NYC native has been working remotely and still finding something positive in the city as she heads into being part of Art House Productions’ first virtual JC Fridays program tomorrow June 5 – even as her latest ongoing project, a reflection on hair and identity embodied and explored through knit-work, is one that thrives on social connections. “For the past couple of years, I’ve been hosting monthly events at my studio or at other art institutions or in the community – inviting people to make art with me. Because the practice is then place-making and conversation, and through the process of teaching people basically finger-knitting, in a way.” Sandiford, whose credits include having an image licensed for BET series “Mary Jane,” said although she can’t invite people into her studio at 150 Bay Street or go out into the community and do that work, she’s still been undertaking the process as she works her way through 12-hour workdays for her job in the music industry. “... Because I personally find it very meditative and relaxing,” Sandiford said. “I’ll takes me longer; it’s a little slower because it’s all me, as opposed to me with other people.” “I count my blessings because I’m still able to work and so many people I know are one paycheck away from destitution and I never knew that about them and maybe they never even knew that about themselves,” Sandiford said, “and so the stress of all of that is something that is really spurring me on to work. So I have completed quite a bit of work. And I literally can look into the ropes with the pieces I’m working on and see what was my mental state and what was going on – pieces that I can see when I learned of certain people passing from COVID or other just life tragedies. There’s just so much stuff going on, especially right now. All of that is going in the work, and it’s making me, when I wake up in the morning, (go) this is something I have to do.” For Sandiford, that’s includes trying to design a life with a healthy-work balance. She said when she first moved to Downtown Jersey City all those years ago, people in New York City were puzzled. “When I talk about designing a life, Jersey City was affordable at that time. I mean, it’s less affordable now, but I have found community here among other artists, other commuters. There’s just a creative process here that is really special, and I know that exists in New York but I don’t want to live in Bushwick. It’s very insulated. … Even if we look at what just happened last week, with ‘Karen’ in Central Park weaponizing race to call the police on someone who had the audacity to tell her to put her dog on her leash … all of these things that separate communities in NY is one of the things that made me feel like maybe New York isn’t for me.” To Sandiford, everyone in Jersey City is mixed up together. “There are some insulated pockets, but you really can just walk down the street and see everyone is together.” She does, however, think that the “city in some ways is being sold to developers,” and taxes are pushing some people out. She also acknowledged that her job has given her access to being able to take advantage of this sphere. “If I was living off solely my art or working two jobs to make due, I’d probably be living in Bayonne or I’d look at Kearny and some of these other communities that are more affordable. But I’m well aware that my day job enables to do things that other artists can’t do. That’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to making art with people in the community is to bring to light these conversations that need to be had. When you’re sitting there, working through a meditative process with your hands, there’s a lot that gets stripped away at the moment that makes people bare and makes people vulnerable in a way that you can have conversations ... that would normally be pretty challenging to have. "And now that I’ve found this as a way of being … it’s healing. It’s personally healing, and it creates a bridge. I’m not saying, it’s a panacea. But it’s something I can do to make a difference – to create a space for people to discover their own creativity and take it with them when go back into their regular lives.” Earlier this year, Sandiford facilitated her workshop as part of Jersey City Theater Center’s Sunday art walks in Greenville – including along Ocean Avenue, one of the area’s longtime redlined areas that stretch into Bergen Lafayette. “I literally had to flag people down on the street. And they thought it was weird. ‘Why are you here? What are you doing? This is weird.’ And there’s a lot of conversations that need to shift,” Sandiford said. “Because art is considered something frivolous when people are really just concerned about daily needs for survival. And here I am trying to engage people in conversation, to teach a restorative practice that just seems frivolous to people, but I have to keep at it, because if I get through to one person to who finds something for themselves then they bring it further into the community, then it’s worth it. “Ideally, it shouldn’t come off as someone telling someone what to do, you know, like, ‘Oh you’re an outsider.’ I experience systematic racism. I experience all these things, because outside-looking in, you wouldn’t know that my job gives me opportunities that other people don’t have. You’re immediately judged by the color of your skin and put into a category. If we look around the world right now, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. (But) when you’re really listening, then solutions come up ... if there’s at least a dialogue about it, instead of resignation." Learn more about Theda Sandiford at her website – https://thedasandiford.com/ – and go to www.jcfridays.com to register in advance to see the free art programming via Zoom Friday. Sandiford is scheduled fourth in the 7 to 8:05 p.m. session, when she’ll be giving a tour of her art studio and an intro to her yarn knitting process.