Artist Bentrice Jusu is best described by the word ‘passion’. Every project and venture she carries out is infused with a palpable and pure energy. Take for instance ‘Both Hands’, a non profit youth arts program which Bentrice founded in 2011 as a sophomore. Purposeful, fiery and refreshingly honest, Bentrice catches us up on all things in her world.
DeacLink: Tell us about what you’re doing right now.
Bentrice Jusu: I’m a full-time artist. Everything I do is about creatively composing ways to use my professional and educational skill set to make money, earn a salary.
In addition to making work, I’m still Executive Director of Both Hands [founded in 2011 while at Wake], and Founder and Creative Director of the Become Club, a fashion and interactive multimedia business which incorporates fashion, music and videography.
All three of these operations combined are definitely not sustainable, so I have to think creatively about how to be a good artist, how to work in media I excel in, and how to utilize the business mindedness I honed before and during my time at Wake. The key is applying business savviness to your artistic practice.
DL: Take us through your journey to your current occupation since leaving Wake.
B: I founded Both Hands while at Wake in 2011, so coming out school that was my primary focus, keeping that going. In 2015 I went into research development for the Become Club. And throughout my time since Wake I’ve been producing artwork of my own and executing commissioned projects... I try to seek commissions all the time. I had a showing in Trenton at the New Jersey State Museum recently, which was an annual showing for my organization as well as my artwork. I also have a few potential events brewing in Philly and NYC. My website and social media accounts will announce those projects officially in the near future.
DL: Did you consider a graduate degree after Wake?
B: I literally just hit ‘submit’ on my applications last week! I’m applying to a few MFA programs. One particular program I had my eye on, I’ve just missed the deadline for. It’s a dual MFA and MBA at NYU. Through my other research I discovered another great program- UPenn offers a Masters in Liberal Arts now.
DL: How much did your studies or Wake in general inform or drive your career path?
B: Everything revolved around Both Hands from the moment I started that business. I consciously enrolled in classes that would apply positively to building and impacting my business… I made my course load work for me.
Intentionally, I stayed true to my art. I came to Wake with my sights set on a business major but I failed. I had to retake a few classes but even then I still didn’t end up majoring in it. The intent there was to become amazing at running a non-profit. The only problem is, the Wake business major is intensive on corporate avenues and profit, and not necessarily non-profit success. But in the end I simply adjusted, shaped my brain to think about other ways to run a business.
I owe a lot to Polly Black’s tutelage in the ICE Department (Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship). It allowed me to see business in an innovative and creative way… Professor Black was pivotal in bringing the educational and professional aspect to my Wake experience.
DL: Did Wake’s Art Department help prepare you for life as a full time artist?
B: I say this without any reserve: Wake’s Art Department DID in fact help me in my post graduate career. Shout out to Wake Forest Art Department- TEAM ART! Hallberg, Pickel, Joel, Finn, Faber… all of the professors were amazing.
We didn’t have access to a rich, popping arts culture like schools in New York does.. And you can’t blame that on the University because that’s just Winston-Salem, NC. But I say without any hesitation that Wake did expose me to different art, different practices, and to challenges which made me become my own, better type of artist without conforming to one certain medium. I felt free to explore.
DL: Prior to what you’re doing now, what other sorts of jobs have you had? How did you find and apply to them?
B: I interned for the Shalom Project, the Diversity Immersion and Inclusion (in non-profit management), One Simple Wish in New Jersey, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF Freedom School), and was an Americorps Fellow. Some of the opportunities were from personal and internal references, while others came about from me seeing an ad posted in the pit and applying from there.
DL: What’s the hardest part about breaking into your field?
B: Being taken for granted. It’s easy to get exploited because your artwork is either tangible and expensable, or replicable and can be done by any and everybody… people think you’re posting your materials for free.
So yeah, the hardest part is penetrating the professional art world without starving to death- you have to do a million and three things for $2 an hour. But you need to believe in yourself enough to know your artwork is meaningful beyond your fingertips.
You’ve also got to overcome feeling bad about being judged and criticized as capitalistic when you switch your medium from a canvas to something portable like a CD or a song. I mean, I have a background in oil painting and all of that… I know how long it takes to construct and work at a painting, or write a proposal to get into a gallery space to display that painting. If you haven’t graduated from Yale, it’s hard.
DL: You’re still based in New Jersey, but looking to move to the City permanently soon. Have you got any advice for students looking to move to NYC?
B: Don’t be a wimp. New York is like every other place, but they’re raised to be themselves. And if you are afraid and intimidated you will not exist there. I haven’t even penetrated the NYC scene like I’m planning to in the next year, but from the time I’ve spent there… you simply can’t be a baby.
DL: What has surprised you the most about the art scene in New York?
B: Nothing. It’s everything you’d expect from a metropolitan art scene.
DL: So we know about grad school, but what’s next for you, art-wise?
B: I’m beginning to focus more on my performance practice. It’s still video installation, still multilateral… but much more centered around the music and performance aspect now. It’ll manifest through the Become Club website, and the actual performance and music will be good enough to reach audiences who can really feel what I’m talking about. The content is based around you becoming the artist you want to be. Viewers can purchase the song for one dollar. Five bucks buys a print, and you can become a member of the club to have access to special projects and opportunities for selected prices from $100.
I’ve also got a show coming up at START gallery, with fellow alumna Emma Hunsinger. More information on that will be showing up on the gallery’s site.
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can pass on, or currently go by?
B: Don’t forget where you came from… don’t be afraid of your past. You cannot forget that.
Visit Bentrice's website here
Follow Bentrice on Instagram and Twitter @beni_jusu