Artist Jordan Weber Inspired By Close The Workhouse Campaign In Racial Justice


Artist Jordan Weber’s work draws on the social and environmental justice movements. His 2014 piece with artist Ron Finley, American Dreamers Phase 2, (above) features a deconstructed police car with a community garden growing from it inspired by the Ferguson Uprising. Weber’s latest project is inspired by the Close the Workhouse campaign.

The new artist-in-residence at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Washington University will focus on environmentalism and racial justice.

Des Moines-based visual artist Jordan Weber creates art that uses sculptures, green spaces and installations. Weber’s work in St. Louis will focus on the Close the Workhouse campaign.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Chad Davis spoke with Weber to discuss his St. Louis residency, his career beginnings and how he transitioned his work from pop art and surrealism years ago to art he hopes will spark social change.

Chad Davis: What made you want to shift to political art that incorporates social commentary?

Jordan Weber: I was doing very environmentally focused work when I was doing larger paintings, but the turning point was Ferguson. It was Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. It was going down to Ferguson, not the first weekend of the protest, but the second weekend of the protests. Seeing people at their wit’s end at that first Friday and then going into Saturday in Ferguson completely flipped every particle in my body into really knowing that I had to produce works that weren’t just 2D, that these words couldn’t just speak on blackness and black suffering and environmental degradation. I had to actually do something.

Davis: How does the Close the Workhouse campaign reflect environmental racism? How do they connect in your opinion?

Weber: One of the main things that Close the Workhouse has as a demand or as a complaint is lack of nutritional food. Another thing is just the sheer amount of mold and air quality within the workhouse. I think that when you go back to violence on the land and violence in the body, there’s that very distinct connection with the things that are happening in the complaints at Close the Workhouse and things that are actually consistently happening in our communities are black, brown and Indigenous communities that we might not as a whole, be completely aware of.

Davis: Do you have an idea of what a project would look like?

Weber: Man, I’m obsessed with Spring Church. I have family members in St. Louis, and I’ve been looking at that church for a good 10 years. Like man, I’ve got to do something in this space. The second I saw that the Pulitzer acquired it, [I asked] is there any possibility that I can do a project in collaboration with Close the Workhouse that would deal with healing and also connect individuals that were formerly incarcerated at the workhouse to some sort of programming, with either farming or urban gardening?

We’re really looking at that Spring Church as an activation in a way to build some sort of structure for spiritual healing, and giving tools for spiritual connection or just decompression and dealing with trauma in general and connecting that to some sort of work or some sort of connection to land. We know that green space really helps the psyche deal with trauma and with stress, and we know that we have a lack of that in our Black, brown and Indigenous communities. So that’s going to be the main focus of the project to build something. I have all these grand ideas I don’t even know. We don’t know what’s possible. But we’re really hoping that whatever we build inside that church, we can deconstruct and then reconstruct on a site like THA MUTHASHIP or inner city farm.

Davis: What was it that kind of sparked your focus on environmental racism within your work? How do you describe environmental racism?

Weber: There’s no difference to me between violence on land and…

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