How Art Practice honors student Jacob Li Rosenberg is resurfacing family history to honor his Bay Area roots

May 8, 2023

Each year, nine seniors in the Department of Art Practice are selected to receive an honors studio for their final semester. Each student receives their own studio space with 24/7 access. The studio space allows students to work on longer-term projects and explore new mediums alongside their cohort. Arts & Humanities had the opportunity to interview three of the nine students in this year's honors studios as they completed their final projects for Professor Stephanie Syjuco's Art + Archive class. Jacob Li Rosenberg is a multi-media artist who is graduating this spring. All photos by Jen Siska. 

Jacob Li Rosenberg
Art Practice 23', Honors Studio Visit

the artist looking at the camera in his studio

Q: How did you decide to come to Berkeley and study art practice? Did you always know you wanted to study art? 

I am originally from Madison, Wisconsin. Though, both of my parents grew up in the Bay Area. My mom’s family immigrated from China to San Francisco. And my dad's family are Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who ended up in New York but then came to the Bay Area. I grew up traveling back and forth to the Bay Area to visit family, so it was sort of like a second home to me. 

I knew I wanted to apply to Berkeley because of this connection to the Bay Area, but I didn't exactly expect to get in. I originally applied to architecture because I had become aware of Ronald Rael’s work. Actually, the summer before my freshman year, I had the opportunity to drive a cross-country road trip with a few of my high school friends. And we were driving through Colorado and I was able to contact Ronald Rael because I knew he worked in Colorado on his family property. He said we were welcome to come by, and I saw the 3D-printed Adobe structures. And I was just, I was fascinated, because it was architecture, but it was also very much like an art Installation. That was really amazing to me to see someone merging those two practices in a very new and relevant way. 

Both my parents are actually artists —  my dad does a lot of video and performance work, and ceramics as well. And my mom is a dancer. They were my main art teachers growing up. Art was always something I felt like I really loved, but I was never really sure if I'd pursue art. The only professional artists that I was around, you know, they would talk about how hard it was for them. Right? You know, making it past college and working professionally. So, I came to Berkeley as an architecture major, and I took some art classes my freshman year, and I just fell in love with my art classes right away.  

Q: What has been your experience in the Art Practice Department? What were your first impressions? 

I really appreciated the conceptual nature of the department. This was definitely one of the biggest draws for me as well as teachers like Stephanie Syjuco and my first art professor Craig Nagasawa, who is a drawing professor. Coming to this department and having teachers who looked like me was really new at the time. Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I didn't even have an Asian teacher whatsoever, let alone an Asian art teacher. So having teachers like, right off the bat, from a similar background to me, making work and talking about their diasporic history — It was just really inspiring and made me want to stay in that community. 

a hand holding artworks that look like tea bags

Q: You are one of nine undergraduate students selected to receive an honors studio, which provides you with a studio space, 24/7, for your final semester. How has that changed your practice? 

In the process of moving out, I’ve been reflecting on how great this space has been. The biggest thing for me since I don't work in a specific medium, was having enough space to explore. I really found a love for installation while in this space. And within that, it's been so nice to have space to have a creative lab where I'm working with all of my peers who are also making amazing work. 

Because of the studio community we have here, I just had the opportunity to have constant critique and feedback from people whenever I wanted it — and vice versa, I was able to collaborate with my cohort and give them feedback. It's been incredibly beneficial to my practice, getting to talk about other people's work. Even if I didn't have something specific to work on, I would just come to the studio because I felt like I was going to at least give myself the opportunity to do something that day. And even if I just had conversations that day, or just sat here and had my lunch and went home, or looked at what other people were doing, I was being productive in my practice. I think it allowed me to treat myself like I was an artist.

the artist looking at an image on a wall depicting his grandmother shooting a gun
the artist turning pages of a photo album