A Fierce Advocate: Nissa Jensen


Jensen with Transcend, Acrylic, 2020

Camille Lubach, Staff Writer

Last year, Linfield senior Nissa Jensen created a series of introspective and sensual works mounted on circles of wood. She sawed, sanded, and painted the surface with richly colored oil paint in the confines of her studio. She spent hours adhering beads and thin wire to the artworks, often working through the night—and the results are stunning.

Jungle, Oil on wood, 2019. From Jensen’s Self Exploration series

Jensen, who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and is majoring in studio art and psychology, is known by her peers for her quick wit and eloquence. Jensen constantly challenges herself and others to strive for acceptance and understanding, in and outside of the classroom.

On campus, Jensen has joined communities who celebrate inclusivity such as the Linfield Body Project. She defines the initiative as a campus group which fights “societal standard quos of what a female body is supposed to look like.” 

When asked about Jensen’s contribution to the program, fellow peer educator and [class] Elena Meza Wynkoop attests to the fact that Jensen’s ability to both listen and share her personal insights makes those she interacts with feel immediately connected. “Working with her during the Peer Body Project was an honor as she shared her vulnerable experiences regarding the appearance ideal and made everyone feel heard,” said Meza Wynkoop.

I don’t like to focus on what people’s physical bodies look like,” Jensen said. “That seems obvious to say, but it is so human nature to judge people based on what they look like.” 

Body activism, or more specifically the practice of body neutrality, is a critical part of Jensen’s identity. When a person reaches a state of acceptance and respect for their body as it is, they have reached body neutrality, according to Jensen. Body neutrality resonates with Jensen, who recognizes the difficulty of achieving a body-positive mentality.

“I think that the standard to look a certain way that isn’t how most people look can be really detrimental to our mental health and our physical health,” she said. Jensen’s frustration with societal standards is a central theme in her artwork. 

Nissa Jensen working on Bastion, Mixed Media, 2019

Another avenue Jensen explores is the intersection between feminism, the body, and trauma. Overall, Jensen’s art is an outlet in which her frustrations and passions run free.

Moreover, Jensen’s efforts as an artist and as a Peer Body Project member are directed towards reaching “a place of understanding where we can focus that energy that is put towards fixing something that isn’t actually wrong, to fixing problems in our society and creating more bridges,” Jensen said.

Jensen honors this value in her relationships with students and faculty members. Adjunct painting and drawing instructor, Thea Gahr, described Jensen as having a “nurturing spirit.” Gahr has observed Jensen’s growth as an artist and student over four years. 

When Jensen entered the art program her freshman year, Gahr was her first instructor. Immediately, Gahr “made me feel like I had a home in the art department,” Jensen said.  

A mutual respect and admiration exists between the two artists. Gahr, a printmaker, is described by Jensen as “Relaxed, peaceful, understanding, empathetic, and… cool.” Whenever Jensen and Gahr cross paths, Jensen remembers “why I am here and that I am safe here.”

When We Water Our Women, Linocut Print, 2019

Originally, Jensen was drawn to the education program at Linfield. “I knew I wanted to help other people learn and not feel pain” she said. After taking an intro psychology class, she realized that a future as a counselor accomplished that same goal. 

Jensen’s love of psychology and art are connected. “Art is a way to heal, a form of counseling,” she said. Her artistic process further demonstrates the intersection of art and psychology, and she journals daily, drawing from these personal reflections to produce work. “If I find an idea that was unfinished, I think ‘Oh, that’s super interesting that I thought that! I should explore that,’” Jensen said.

Jensen gets her “flow” on through collage before beginning a new project. If this fails, she looks at the work of other artists and aims to “add to the conversation” with her own insights. 

Shimmer, Mixed Media, 2020. To follow Jensen’s artistic endeavors, go to Jensen’s Art Instagram or her website.

Recently, Jensen and a team of fellow psychology undergraduates have taken on a research project with professors Dr. Judith Zacken and Dr. Jennifer Ruh Linder. The team is examining TV shows and the evolution of sexually violent depictions. 

Jensen said the project is intense. “There are tons of steps—lots of planning and coding. Maybe three years down the line we can actually see the effects,” she said. Despite this, Jensen is thrilled by the opportunity to be working on the project. 

During her four years at Linfield, Jensen has gained respect and admiration among faculty members. Dr. Linder spoke fondly of the energy Jensen brings to the classroom, “Nissa is someone who strives for growth and pushes herself to get as much as she can out of every new experience, bringing along other students in the process,” she said.