Repurposing for Representation: Wesley Jefferies rediscovers her roots through several mediums of art

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Photos by Brennan Booker

For many students, college might be the first place they are surrounded by others who share similar interests and goals. Artist in Residence Wesley Jefferies, however, has been surrounded by a common passion for the arts from a young age. Jefferies attended the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, starting in fifth grade until she attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities during her last two years of high school.

Her interest in art did not begin with the Fine Arts Center, however, but has been with her almost all her life. “For as long as I can remember [I’ve been doing art in earnest]. Ever since I could pick up a pencil,” Jefferies says.

Scrapbooking with her mother, Eric Carle books and paper dolls have shown Jefferies how paper could be an art form. Now a junior in USC’s Art Education program, she works with various mediums but prefers cut paper to all else. From this, Jefferies develops books, portraits and animations. A book she created in high school is still her favorite piece she’s done to this day.

“There’s only five pages,” she says, “but each page opens up and there are three layers in the image. I used my grandma’s old family photos from the ‘40s and ‘50s [and] photos of my family in Easley, South Carolina, farming and doing their daily lives.”

Another cut paper piece Jefferies created is an animation titled “Representation Matters.” This animation portrays a black girl’s newfound confidence when she notices women with natural hair appearing on television. Jefferies notes that the media portrays narrow perceptions of beauty that may affect a woman’s self esteem. Oftentimes, diversity goes unrepresented in this realm. A high school sculpting teacher once told Jefferies “art is a form of activism.” She will continue making art that attests to this idea.

Jefferies hopes to teach art in the future for elementary school children or at a museum. Her enrollment in USC’s Art Education program, at a school that is not solely focused in the arts, has helped Jefferies see art in a new light.

People who aren’t artists “bring with them a different lens when they are looking at my work … their perspective has pushed me in a different way,” Jefferies says. In addition to this new perspective, her art education classes have helped her to distinguished how to make art versus how to teach it.

“When you’re teaching art, you have to be very aware of the steps and you have to know how to convey that to a young child. You have to know how to go through the steps and you have to repeat that maybe five different times for them to understand.”

Jefferies has been through this learning process many times while studying in the Upstate, at USC and in Florence, Italy, on a study abroad trip. Right now, Jefferies is looking forward to May 2017 when she will attend Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina for a two-week art workshop.

Jefferies encourages aspiring artists to work consistently. “Draw as often as possible,” she says. “Draw from life, draw from your imagination. Just pick up a pencil.” 

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