Janet McKenzie is a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised in and around New York City. She now lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.
Ms McKenzie studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology (NYC) and the Art Students League (NYC), on scholarship (Merit, Arnold Blanch). She was the recipient of the Edward McDowell Traveling Scholarship, which sent her to Europe for a year to study and travel. At the time she was one of the youngest recipients of the McDowell, which is the Art Students League’s most prestigious award. After returning to New York the League gave Ms McKenzie her first solo show. Since that time she has focused her life’s work primarily on the subject of women.
The artist’s devotion and commitment to imagery of women has in many ways to do with the loss of her mother and grandmother at an early point in her life. She realized that their journey – all women’s really – was interwoven and linked together. She grew to believe that her work would serve as a symbolic voice for women who were not able to speak for themselves.
In the mid nineties Janet McKenzie began to incorporate diversity, children, and symbolic imagery into her work with women. At the same time the need to explore a sacred voice within her work surfaced, partly influenced by time spent in New Mexico.
Janet McKenzie’s painting, “Jesus of the People”, was selected winner of the National Catholic Reporter’s competition for a new image of Jesus at the Millennium by judge, Sister Wendy Beckett, art historian and BBC television host.
Her interpretation of Jesus pays homage to two groups usually left out of such imagery, African Americans and women. In the words of Sister Wendy, “This is a haunting image of a peasant Jesus – dark, thick-lipped, looking out on us with ineffable dignity, with sadness but with confidence. Over His white robe He draws the darkness of our lack of love, holding it to Himself, prepared to transform all sorrows if we will let Him.”
"African American Women Celebrated" is an ongoing body of work paying homage to women of color bringing together themes long important to the artist, Motherhood, Iconic Women Alone, Children (the future) and the Gift of the Elderly. "African American Women Celebrated" was funded by the Breyo Fellowship.