Southeast Springs artist Rizzo embraces activism in her work

When visual artist  Jeresneyka “Rizzo ‘’ Rose breezed through the door for our interview, she was all smiles, and the lightness of her energy changed the atmosphere — the same way many of her artworks change the city. Her art (, her activism, her origins and the search for her identity through artistic expression have all been part of her journey toward embracing herself and her purpose.

Rizzo’s father, a Panama native and muralist, taught Rizzo to draw at a young age. He moved his family to Southeast Colorado Springs when Rizzo was 10. They often bonded over doodling, and she began winning awards in elementary school. In high school, friends began asking her to draw their tattoos. It was during that time she considered pursuing art school — but a friend said, “your art isn’t that good,” Rizzo recalls. She thought, “if they see that, maybe what I see is not a thing.” She stopped drawing for a long time.

Fast forward a few years: Her boyfriend gifted her with a canvas set for Valentine’s Day that ended up in a closet somewhere. She uncovered the set after a brief move to northern Colorado Springs (she says she never felt at home there). “My apartment is empty,” she says of how she felt at the time, “it’s just me and the canvas; let me paint.”

As a novice, she didn’t research the consequences of blending oil and acrylic paints, which created an unintended cracking effect. “It was perfect,” Rizzo says of that first painting (which she sold last year and later had tattooed on herself as a reminder). The piece, a soft painting of the back of a black woman with an Afro, is emblematic of her work today: powerful black women demonstrating ownership over how they expose their bodies.

[pullquote-1] But that experience with her friend in high school was impactful. “It’s crazy how people can tell you so many positive things but it is the negative thing that sticks,” she says. Two years ago she decided to create a “worthy” series of paintings that includes positive messages as a way to reset mental narratives for herself and others. ”It’s kind of like affirming it — once you see it, you start to repeat it and you believe it,” she says. This taught her to practice affirmations, to surround herself with the things that she wanted to become, and to look in the mirror and realize that she is unique and tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone; make today count. She says this shift in thinking helped her embrace activism in her art by asking daily “Am I doing myself justice by living a life that I think is valuable?”

Rizzo says she used to be in bondage worrying about the professional consequences of pro-black artwork — like her rendition of a fro’d out Angela Davis that reads, “I am no longer accepting the things I can not change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” One day something just clicked, she says, and she stopped worrying so much whether others viewed her as too politically charged.

Last month, Rizzo attended a summit for the Fight4AFuture Network (previously known as the Gun Violence Prevention Network) and Generation Progress. She says this experience helped her further develop the courage to use her voice. Activism isn’t just protesting in the streets or on social media — it is expressing those feelings in art.

“You can say things and people don’t have to listen, but when you visualize things, people will look even though they don’t like it,” she says. She adds that she’s learning to use her voice both physically and visually. “My art is a direct reflection of me. I need to make pieces because I want to, it’s how I feel, and it represents me and my community. It resonates with me and what I represent.”

Editor's note: This column has been updated to correct a typo in Rose's first name.