In a studio in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, Sen Mendez readies themself, gracefully poised above a piece of linoleum. Carving knife in hand, they will cut images into the linoleum in practice known as block printing. Later Sen will cover these carvings in ink and press them into paper or cloth to create prints.
Sen, also known as Queen Sen Sen, is a non-binary fat artist born and raised in Oakland, California. A friend introduced them to block printing on an art date, even giving Sen the carving tools they needed to continue their practice. Queen Sen Sen has been hooked ever since.
Sen’s prints reflect their mission of dismantling systematic oppression among Indigenous, Black, Fat and Transgender bodies. In Sun, Sen reimagines themself as a protector for Queer and Trans prisoners, giving them strength to heal. In this print, their subjects seem to rise out of the background much like Sen wants to bring Indigenous, Black, Fat and Transgender bodies out of the background and into the center.
One of the aspects that drew Sen to block printing was the imperfection and humanity they could see in the process.
“In drawing you can erase your mistakes, but once something is carved, you can’t go back. Because you have to accept a piece with its flaws I began to see myself in the block, began to see the flaws as my traumas. By carving the block I was able to carve the trauma out of myself,” Sen says.
This practice—rewriting one’s story through art—is something that Sen hopes to offer in ARTogether’s upcoming block printing workshop. Y(our) Legacy: A Printmaking Workshop, will run for 10 weeks inviting Oakland refugees and immigrants into a creative space for self expression and acceptance. The accessibility of carving materials makes Sen hopeful students will come away with not only a craft skill but a permanent tool to reshape their stories.
At ARTogether we affirm that art can transcend language. Likewise, Sen sees art as a way for immigrant communities to communicate past race and language. As a first-generation Salvadoran immigrant, Sen recognizes how they can see their story in other immigrants’ experiences.
“I think it’s very important that we acknowledge that we have very similar stories and that they are all connected and we don’t have to carry this story alone – Your legacy becomes our legacy. There’s pain but there’s also resilience there. And it’s important to remember how far we’ve come,” Sen adds.
Y(our) Legacy: A Printmaking Workshop will be free for a small group of ten participants and sign-ups will be opening soon here. The class will be held at the Resistance Press a cooperative that Sen co-founded, dedicated to providing communities access to hands-on art workshops, community murals and one of a kind artwork pieces that reflects the LGBT community.
We cannot do this workshop without you!