Profile: Seitu Jones (1951-)

Seitu Jones is a multi-disciplinary artist and community organizer known for his large-scale public artworks and environmental design. Working both independently and in collaboration with other artists, Jones has created over forty large-scale public artworks.

Jones is retired from the faculty of the Interdisciplinary Arts MFA program at Goddard College, Port Townsend, Washington and lives and works in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Early life and influences

Born in north Minneapolis in 1951, Jones attended Field Elementary School in Minneapolis where he realized then he did not want to be anything other than an artist.

Before graduating from high school his grandfather took him to see the Wall of Respect in Chicago, Illinois which was considered the first collective street mural. For Jones, “just seeing these black figures done large-scale – that blew my mind. From then on, I saw the power of the museum of the streets. That was my turning point to want to create large-scale work.

Seitu Jones finds inspiration in his great-grandfather who born in slavery. After gaining his freedom, he later came and settled in Minnesota in 1877 first working at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing, Minnesota, as a porter. After earning enough money he started a farm in Rochester, Minnesota where Seitu Jones’ grandmother was born. 

Jones describes growing up in a family that was very creative. In addition to having aunts and uncles that were painters, Jones’ father was an artist and a painter. And considers himself fortunate to have their work around as inspiration. According to Jones due to discrimination and widespread racism, his father gave up on art as a career instead of running a print shop from his home. His father was also a sign painter, painting signs for black businesses on Minneapolis’ south side.

Work

Much of Jones art centers around placemaking creating and manipulating space while working with the surrounding community to change and temporarily transforming a space to create a sense of place. Jones was also influenced by the Black Arts Movement and its central belief that artists have an obligation to leave their communities “more beautiful than they found it.

In 2013 Jones received a Joyce Award from Chicago’s Joyce Foundation which allowed him to develop “CREATE: The Community Meal”, a dinner for 2,000 people at a table a half a mile long. The project focused on access to healthy food.

Collaborations

Jones has collaborated in a number of projects with Ta-coumba T. Aiken including a project entitled “Shadows of Spirit” (1992), a series of sculptures in the form of human silhouettes cast in bronze and embedded in the Nicollet Mall wide sidewalks with poetry by Rosemary Soyini Vinelle Guyton is inscribed on each shadow. Commissioned by the City of Minneapolis it honors significant figures from the region’s cultural history.

In another collaboration, Jones and Aiken developed seven sculptures at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden entitled “Shadows at the Crossroads” (2019) meant to be an extension of the Nicollet Mall project Again honoring and celebrating a group of individuals in their public artwork.[1]

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