Magical Folk Arts

As a young child, I came to find solace from uncontrollable circumstances by delving into magic, fairy tales and folklore. In an effort to gain some modicum of control, I would internalize stories and symbols that gave meaning to those challenges. Over the years, these themes have ebbed and flowed throughout my life, acting as a guiding force through an allegorical labyrinth. In response to ongoing social upheaval and having a child who doesn’t speak due to a neurological impairment, I am driven to explore the value of symbolic language to address the implosion of meaning in our culture today. While initially attracted to the magic of sigils as a way to exercise control in the world, I have ultimately found that my interest lies in utilizing symbols as an agent of healing.

Folktales frequently include wise women or ‘witches’, serving alternately as a catalyst, medicine-maker or monster encountered along the way. The demonization of the witch over the course of centuries has undermined the legitimacy of Earth-centered worldviews on both sides of the Atlantic. A term once applicable to most of Europe, the word Pagan literally translates to ‘people of the earth’ or ‘country folk’. Generations of disassociation from the land has resulted in the erosion of traditional folk culture, which derives from our relationship to place. This has left us out of touch with our bodies, each other and the spirit of nature. By personifying the healer and shadow, witches embody the story element we need to embrace the paradox of magic and mend our connection to the Earth.

Language is inherently symbolic. Writing itself was once even considered a form of magic. Like my child, who uses ideograms to communicate, I have also found a voice working with pictographs. This conceptual medicine-making grows as I connect to collaborators and traditions, grounding my work in place and time. Mark making in folk art often carries meaning through pictorial language, encrypting the cosmos of a people. Cultural context is then reflected back at us through the material environment, with repeating glyphs informing how we value the natural world and our place within it. To synthesize new linguistic codes, we use pieces of preceding idioms. By borrowing from ancient signifiers, my work seeks to renew magical mark-making as a form of folk art, attempting to give old patterns new meaning.

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Jeanine Malec is a Minneapolis-based artist, creating under the moniker Nest and Tessellate. Her work explores visual languages derived from forgotten folk art patterns and symbolism. Her practice seeks to revive the use of these ideograms as a way to connect with ancestral traditions, anchor our energies in the present, and craft symbolic stories about who we want to be as a community going forward. Sigils, or symbols charged with intention, have a long history of use as agents of healing and protection. Collecting imagery from around South Minneapolis, she hopes to draw attention to different folk art traditions, draw parallels between forms, identify shared meanings and with the help of collaborators, construct a contemporary folk art language rooted in the magic of this place and its people. The results of this inquiry are intended to act as a reference point, inspiring positive change through the intentional use of symbols or sigils. The goal, in short, is to create a magical folk art for our time.

Printable PDF Resume: J.Malec Artist Resume


Member of A Conspiracy of Strange Girls art collective.

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