Diane Jacobs (b. 1966) received the San Francisco Artadia Award in 2000. She currently lives and works in Portland, Oregon, and received her MFA in printmaking from San Francisco State University in 1996. Diane has exhibited nationally and abroad for the last 25 years; her prints and artist books are included in the collections of The Getty, SFMOMA, the de Young Fine Arts Museum, Achenbach Foundation, The New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, Walker Art Center, Yale, Stanford, and Reed College, among others.

Diane joins Artadia for a brief discussion about her work and most recent solo exhibition WAKE at The Annex in Salem, Oregon.

A: You received the Artadia Award in 2000 – can you talk a little about what you were working on at that time?

DJ: In 2000 I was working on a body of work that used language as my witness to expose the tenacious, white patriarchal power structure. I began with a series of woven sculptural paper hats, underwear and bras that had handset letterpress text of derogatory words used against women printed on each paper strip. Next, I broadened the scope of degrading and offensive terms to include words of hatred and violence. Each paper hair strand was printed with racist words for a particular hair stereotype— dreadlocks, long straight black, wavy brown, bouffant blonde, and curly reddish brown wigs. At this point I had 10 groupings of offensive words which I printed on 10 photo-lithographs of different women’s faces. I cut and wove the faces in one edition and I also made two portfolios that included each of the women’s faces. These portfolios are in the collection at the New York Public Library and at Reed College.  For the 2000 Artadia award exhibition I made a culminating piece titled …with liberty and justice for all which was a woven U.S. flag measuring 53” x 80”. I letterpress printed all the negative words in black ink on transparent colored vellumembedding layers of prejudice and bigotry into the fabric of the flag.

A: Can you talk about your newest body of work that exhibited at the Salem Art Association in October?

DJ: My installation, WAKE explored capitalistic greed as a root cause of our dire future, how this value system is evident in our violent history, and how the ideology of Manifest Destiny—the doctrine used to justify the taking of land from indigenous people—is a legacy of white supremacy.  The brutality of warfare by the US military and white settlers against indigenous peoples was no less than a plan for genocide. I read two books that greatly influenced this exhibition: On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Both of these leaders shape the activist paradigm and speak to the importance of creating relationships that will have lasting effects. I see this country polarized and moving from a place of fear. I am drawing connections between all living things; women’s rights as human rights; white privilege part of every discussion; the climate crisis and people’s relationship to place; the Second Amendment and epidemic of mass shootings; land as home; the intangible and the spirit. I am utilizing intimacy, humor, imagination, the heart, irony, material, urgency, and agency.

(ex)change, 2015, curated by Laura Mack and funded by Career Opportunity Grants from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Ford Family Foundation
Installation image from WAKE, 2019
Installation image from WAKE, 2019
Installation image from WAKE, 2019
Detail from WAKE, 2019

A: Considering your work’s interest in feminist thinking and social justice, what issues or topics do you feel most drawn to address right now?

DJ: I feel we are in a state of emergency with our climate crisis. With WAKE I am trying to show the intersectionality of many issues regarding our brutal history of white supremacy. I am making connections between the violent land grabs by white settlers and the commodification of land. The abuse of extracting natural resources from mother earth for profit-oil, coal, natural gas, timber … it can’t continue. The piece My Body is a declaration! These are AMAZON breasts, made of repurposed chicken egg shell breasts from my previous installation, HOMAGE in 2016. This work is in reaction to having a president and two Supreme Court justices accused of sexual assault. I am outraged that these powerful positions held by men are confirmed after courageous testimony and tape recordings of blatant sexual predatory actions. All three of these men are trying to make abortion illegal. Women must have the right to choose. Another huge issue before the Supreme Court is a ruling to decide whether or not the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers from descrimination in the workplace. This is a very important case as it will have implications for everyone. If not protected, your employer could fire you on grounds of not being feminine enough or masculine enough. Very scary stuff. I see this moment in time to have the potential to create solidarity in the fight for a future. Where we care about everyone. All people, all living beings (plants, animals, water, air, earth) are respected. We will have to sacrifice – the changes have to be bold and repairative. Youth and indigenous communities can lead us from a place of vision and wisdom.

A: How do you think your work has changed since 2000?

DJ: My awareness and depth of understanding continues to grow.  I try to access the heart – to coax us to let down our guard so we can venture into new territory. I have found the artist book to be a perfect vehicle to express many voices and intimately engage the viewer. I like to take these books and sculptural works dense with content and transform them into experiential installations on a grand scale so my audience embodies the ideas sensorially, emotionally, and intellectually. Two examples of this are REP-HAIR-ATION (2007) and object n. object v. (2016). REP-HAIR-ATION is a portfolio of 15 prints that unpacks the legacy of slavery in the United States.  It takes the words SEE, FEEL, OPEN, and ACT and explores them metaphorically and literally, through text and image, in a meditation on institutional racism that is evident in our prison-industrial complex. In 2008 I created the installation The Writing’s on the Wall based on REP-HAIR-ATION. The second example is my sculptural artist book object n. object v. that juxtaposes two very different realities for women who lived north of the Mediterranean Sea during Classical antiquity. Ancient Greek society regarded beauty along with chastity as the most important characteristics for females; male desire objectified the female body. But beautiful women also represented danger that had to be controlled, thus giving rise to an oppressive and misogynist culture. At the same time, an egalitarian nomadic society roamed from Thrace as far east as Mongolia. These Scythian women warriors were known as Amazons. These starkly opposite realities simultaneously obscure and magnify our present struggle for equality. Four months after completing my book project, I created an installation, HOMAGE that converted the large exhibition space at Wieden + Kennedy to have 20 greek pillars and 8 foot high projected animated AMAZON drawing, among other components. 

Detail from HOMAGE, 2016
object n. object v., 2016
This Hunger, 2018
Detail from Not So Fast, 2018
Diane in her studio, 2019

To see more of Diane’s work, visit her website and Artadia’s Artist Registry.

Diane’s biography and images courtesy of the artist.


(ex)change, 2015, installation image by Matt Blum

WAKE, 2019, installation image

WAKE, 2019 installation image

WAKE, 2019 installation image

WAKE, 2019, detail from installation image

Detail from In These Five Remaining Days, After Hafez, 2010, photo by RR Jones

In These Five Remaining Days, After Hafez, 2010, photo by RR Jones

Detail from In These Five Remaining Days, After Hafez, 2010, photo by RR Jones

Detail from HOMAGE, installation image

object n. object v., 2016, photo by Courtney Frisse

This Hunger, 2018, installation image

Detail from Not So Fast, 2018, photo by Dan Swerbilov

Diane Jacobs in studio, 2019