Supervisor: Katherine McKittrick
Research interests: I am interested in the interrelations of music, visual arts, critical race theory, gender, and how they address Black geography through narrative, ethnography, and art forms. My creative and multidisciplinary approach addresses the particular importance of race, gender, (dis)ability, and/or (dis)ease. My focus on continuing my investigations in "unprotected black female flesh" was birthed from my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis. As an artist, scholar, and practitioner, Black geographic thought centers my practice. I focus on history held within the land and the body, with storytelling in both concrete and abstract forms.
jessica susan oler (b. 1986) is a Black American Conceptual Artist. oler was born and raised in Davis, California. She attended Sacramento City College where she earned three Associates Degrees in Social Science, Liberal Arts, and Sociology. In addition to this she earned her Bachelor's Degree in Sociology from San Francisco State University in 2014 and her Master's Degree in Fine Arts from California College of the Arts in 2019. oler's work has been shown at California College of the Arts; Lewis-Clark State College; Rochester, Chautauqua, and Brooklyn, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Miami, Florida; Lawrenceville and Atlanta, Georgia; Alameda, Oakland, and San Francisco, California; and Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia.
oler produces artworks in two-dimensional conceptual abstract format, video, photographic series, installation, and time-based photographic work. As her practice shape shifts and expands, she continues to lean into both concrete figurative forms and conceptual abstraction. Her process of constructing, deconstructing, and reconfiguring her original photographic prints continue to prove to be a way to work through the magnitude of the concepts that are approached. oler's multidisciplinary practice grapples with larger systemic quandaries that address patient narrative, medical racism, and black geography. As her work weaves in and out of the personal and political, the intrinsic interconnectedness of both are apparent. In oler's 2019 Untitled 12' x 12' photographic installation, she explored the inseparable history of American lynchings with a specific focus on the lynching of Mary Turner. During the summer of that year, oler built the first iteration of Big Bodies, a photographic installation built with her original photography in conversation with the Middle Passage. This work was particularly significant as it was built alongside live double bass instrumentation by Dr. Ian Saunders. In 2021, oler was invited by Harvard Medical School to write her narrative surrounding her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This invite proved to be an expansive, groundbreaking invitation that opened the door to ethnography for her practice.
As oler continues to move forward with her personhood, politic, and artistic practice the vastness of multidisciplinarity continues to be a guiding force. Her perspective of the world shifted when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 2012. Life became aggressively bombastic, urgent, and generative in a new and rigorous way. As Gustav Klimpt once said, "art is a line around your thoughts." That through-line runs through her work with consistent abandon. oler continues to work through the concept "unprotected Black female flesh" which, at this moment, is anchored in her experience as a Black woman living with said illness.