A multi-disciplinary artist with mid-western flair, Sydney Joslin-Knapp’s work melds influences across genres like funk music innovators from their hometown like the Ohio Players, Heat Wave, and Zap. You can see how various cultural influences shape the visual imagery of Sydney’s eclectic justice-centered art.
Sydney joined Bia Vieira for a conversation and reflection on creativity, place, culture, and the beauty of these complexities. Whether they are working with small hand embroidered patches or large paper-based installations Sydney pushes the boundaries of visual narratives.
Sydney’s work is featured in All Bodies Deserve: Creating the Future of Us, a coloring book produced with the Center for Cultural Power through our Culture Change Fund. All August long, we are celebrating and spotlighting artists and creatives taking up space and helping us imagine a reality brimming with beauty, vitality, and gender justice.
Bia Vieira sat down with Sydney to discuss craft and place and their role in producing All Bodies Deserve – our coloring book.
Below is a transcript of their conversation that’s been edited for clarity.
Vieira: What attracted you to the Gender Justice Coloring Book project?
Joslin-Knapp: So I was attracted to the Gender Justice Coloring Book because of the premise of it. I enjoyed that it is dealing with a serious multifaceted issue that is getting some more focus in the mass culture. But I also really enjoyed that it was very broad. I liked the inclusion of a lot of different artists and the ability for all of us to kind of create according to what resonated most with us. And I think looking at the coloring book altogether, it’s a really wonderful sort of reference point for the variety of ways that people can be, and really encourage people to be creative and start thinking about what kind of world they would like to live in and sort of create those entry points for us to be able to bring that to life.
Vieira: How do you think creativity is powerful?
Joslin-Knapp: I think it is powerful because it engages like parts of our brains that are not necessarily utilized just going through the motions in our day to day lives. I think that it encourages us to think in different ways, be open to possibility and just live a little more vividly.
I think it kind of pushes us to question the way things are, a little bit more, which is a valuable tool. And I think it’s also really important to just be creative for the sake of being creative and be able to enjoy those processes, not necessarily with the means of an end of, “oh, I’m going to sell this work” or “it is exist in this space”, but rather just to enjoy the process and whatever community may come through being creative.
Vieira: Can you share a little bit about what you were trying to accomplish with your images in the book and what your creative process was like?
Joslin-Knapp: So, I was first introduced to the sort of pillars that were the focus areas for what is gender justice, what that looks like. And as I was reading through all of the data and information and relating it to these pillars, I was thinking: one, about what sort of visual imagery sort of resonates with some of that, some of those ideas in my mind and two: what can kind of be something that relates to what we have currently in our visual narratives while also started pushing beyond it. So, I am a really huge fan of psychedelic art, especially Peter Max’s work, and I love flowers and the natural world.
So when I was thinking about those pillars, I was also thinking about what it brings forth for me. And I was thinking about possibility and the journey and multiplicity. So I thought that, you know, like the hero’s journey and Joseph Campbell’s work around, that was a really perfect sort of segue to, you know, the journey of going through life and sort of trying to bring forth something new.
So I had the long winding trail going into a dark forest, but beyond that dark forest we have, you know, some dark clouds, but a lot of light and beauty. And then my mother’s gardens have always been sort of around my life and I really enjoy the care and tenderness she puts into her gardening and how she appreciates all the different kinds of flowers and plants.
And I thought that that was a really good analogy for honoring and respecting differences between us and trying to just fortify each other and appreciate one another on a really deep level.
Vieira: Do you want to share a little bit about your life and in terms of your journey and becoming an artist?
Joslin-Knapp: Sure. So I am a multi disciplinary artist. I work really small with hand embroidered patches and really large, with large paper based installations. And my journey as an artist has been evolving from the time I was a small child and in my senior year of college I kind of had a point of reckoning where I thought about why I make work and I began returning to the materials that I used as a child.
So construction paper, markers, cardboard, but I wasn’t really able to articulate the reasons why. And through that sort of breakthrough moment and some therapy, I realized that I was sort of trying to return to my childhood self and find ways to work that make me happy and so transitioning from making work the way that I thought it should be, to making work that brings me happiness and sort of resonates with the truth of who I am. Opened up a lot of doors for me. I believe that art is really powerful, creativity is powerful and so I try to make space in my life for making things that make me happy but also connect to the outside world, because so often when we are discussing creativity, it’s sort of within the realm of the individual. However, I think that creativity is something that connects all of us, no matter how we may articulate it, we have that sort of creative, like, thought. So this is just my… my own way of articulating that. And I think that it’s really wonderful that this way of making has connected me with so many other people who feel a similar way and has really expanded my community beyond just who I may know in Dayton or through school. And what have you.
Vieira: What are you working on now?
Joslin-Knapp: So, currently…I am mostly focusing my energy on making new works. I am getting more complex with the small embroidered pieces that I’m doing after a really large thing like an installation. I like to work really small. So right now I’m working on my small pieces.
Vieira: Is there anything else you’d like to share that you think would be important to share?
Joslin-Knapp: I think there is a bit about midwestern creativity for sure. I think that Ohio in particular, but the midwest broadly, is very important to cultural and sociopolitical movements. And say for example, Dayton Ohio is home to many of the innovators of funk music like Ohio Players and Heat Wave and Zap, and I think that a lot of that is sort of erased from the mass narrative about what midwesternist is, especially in particularly toward black and brown people, queer people, everybody’s sort of erased.
So I think that one of the things I try to do personally in my work is to celebrate a lot of this sort of beauty and complexity of the midwest and the people who are from here. Because so often I see that missing, especially in, like, large creative art spaces. So yeah, we just need a little more attention and love given toward the midwest.
Vieira: So you talked a little bit about the importance of the midwest and Ohio for cultural and social political movements. How has this influenced your art?
Joslin-Knapp: Yeah. So being from Dayton has influenced my work a lot, in part because living here, you know, it’s sort of what I’m used to. But then going to Ohio University, I realized, wow, Dayton is really innovative. It has one of the highest number of patents in the country per capita. We have a very vibrant arts and cultural scene that rivals the larger cities such as Columbus. And I also think that a lot of the narratives about the history of my city, were sort of not as popular or necessarily shared when I was younger, so as an older person, and as Dayton is sort of becoming more of a city that recognizes and reckons with its history. It’s really important to me that I do my part to learn more about, you know, the totality of where I’m from and how it shapes who I am and do my part to sort of share that and grow with it.
And that sort of appreciation of just what makes up my everyday life has helped to encourage my gratitude personally, but also to take on new ways of sharing that, whether through art, tangibly supporting people, whatever.
About Sydney Joslin-Knapp
Sydney Joslin-Knapp is a multi-disciplinary creative from Dayton, Ohio. They use art to process their feelings and share love for their dogs, communities, and cultural production. They have a BFA in Studio Art from Ohio University and a day job as a florist. They co-edit CONNOISSEUR magazine with fellow creator Dave Scott and love learning and communing with friends. Ultimately, Sydney strives to enjoy their time on earth and leave it better and more colorful.
Check out more of Sydney’s work at sydneyjoslinknapp.com.