From the Yankton Reservation to California, Ruby Jay traces their family history in final installation at Art Practice

May 16, 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.

Ruby Jay works in painting and installation and is an honors studio recipient. They are graduating this Spring. All photos by Jen Siska. 

Ruby Jay
Art Practice 23', Honors Studio Visit

student in front of artwork

Q: What brought you to Berkeley to study Art Practice? Did you always know you’d study art, or did you come to Berkeley as another major? 

Ruby: In high school, I enjoyed painting and was always very much into art despite my school not having a very substantial arts focus. The teachers that I had in high school were great, there just weren't many of them and their time with students was limited. I didn't imagine myself as an artist. I always enjoyed art, but in the back of my mind, that wasn't something I could realistically pursue. Especially because growing up in Santa Cruz, a pretty affluent area, my family was always living paycheck to paycheck, and at times food- and housing-insecure. I always imagined I’d go to college and study something with a more direct track that would guarantee financial sustainability. 

When it came time to apply to college, I had made up my mind that I’d study a pre-med track and I’d go for my MD. I distinctly remember having a conversation with a much more affluent friend, and she said to me “I would be so sad if I saw you at a reunion someday and you were a dermatologist or something because you have so much creative talent.” I just remember being perturbed by that because I felt at the time that it wasn't an option for me – it seemed out of touch with the reality of my life. 

I grew up in a mixed household, with my dad being Chinese and white and my Mom being Native (Yankton Sioux, Ihaƞktoƞwaƞ Dakota) and white. My mom’s family is working class, and I’d be the first to finish a higher education degree on her side. On the other hand, my dad’s side of the family is mostly college educated, and he grew up with much more resources and high academic prospects. From that part of my family, it was very clear –  you go to med school or law school, or maybe business school, and you make your money back, and you make your family proud. They were elated that I got into Johns Hopkins, and later deeply confused that I would turn the offer down. I decided to go to Berkeley instead and figured that I’d get to study a variety of things in tandem with cognitive science and my pre-med requirements. I immediately felt that I had made a huge mistake. I felt like I was drowning at this huge institution — I couldn't get into my CogSci classes, my financial aid was revoked for several months, I was placed in temporary housing,  and I couldn't get an advisor to meet with me. It made me realize that I needed to advocate for myself a lot more than I was used to and find resources wherever I could. 

During this tough time, all I wanted to do was take art classes — I missed creating things and working with my hands and I wasn't making time for it without the structure of a class, so I decided to major in Art Practice. I switched from CogSci to Psychology and continued working on that major, but my heart just wasn't into it. 

student in front of artwork
arts installation