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‘An Enchanted Realm of the Woods’: Jena Ataras Creates Safe Space for Young Artists To Grow cover

‘An Enchanted Realm of the Woods’: Jena Ataras Creates Safe Space for Young Artists To Grow

In her latest series of mixed-media portraits, Portland-based artist Jena Ataras aims to inspire young artists. “Guardians of The Whispering Woods explores the enchanted realm of the woods, where children discover and embrace their unique, magical abilities,” says Jena, whose work offers a respite from sugary American distractions, like Jersey Shore and the snack aisle at your local Target.

“In a country that often shies away from discomfort and instead force feeds the population with reality shows and junk food, I use my work to confront the difficult truths of the human experience, including suffering,” says Jena. “Through my art, I invite viewers to explore the complex emotions that come with suffering and to find compassion and empathy for those who are struggling.”

In her previous series, The Metamorphosis, Jena imagines “what it would look like if all Black Americans began a metamorphosis” after being shaped and mutilated by racism. In Beautiful Freaks, she “interweaves negative judgments about queer and brown bodies into something strange but beautiful.” Saturated, glossy, and bursting with patterns and touch-me textures, Jena’s portraits explode off the canvas in a bid for recognition, understanding, and respect.

Inspired by mythology and folklore, Jena Ataras' 'Guardians of The Whispering Woods' imagines a protective pact between children and the natural world.
‘Lost Childhood’

The portraits of Whispering Woods tread similar territory. Their young subjects, adorned with flowers, ferns, feathers, and face paint, return the viewer's gaze with wide, unblinking eyes. Initially confrontational, their watchful eyes become disarming, even bewitching, with a bit of patience. Inspired by world mythologies and folklore, Guardians of The Whispering Woods imagines a sacred pact between children and the natural world that provides both parties with protection and compassion. Each child embodies a distinct power rooted in nature, which allows them to safeguard each other and their home in the Whispering Woods. One may communicate with animals, while another might manipulate plant life for good.

“[Guardians of The Whispering Woods] is a celebration of difference,” says Jena. “The children, with their varied skin tones, hairstyles, and clothing, represent the beauty and strength found in our diverse global community. As the children navigate the challenges of self-discovery, they learn to harness their powers not for personal gain but for the protection and harmony of their community. This message of cooperation and collective strength resonates deeply with the current fight for social justice and celebrates the interconnectedness of all beings.”

Still, Jena stresses these children aren’t immortal or beyond the veil of human understanding. “They are not superheroes,” she says, “but ordinary children empowered by their cultural heritage and connection to the natural world.” Like much of Jena’s work, Guardians of The Whispering Woods is a testament to the transformative power of art and empathy. “My work is a powerful reminder that we are not alone in our suffering,” she says. “It is also a reminder that even in the midst of darkness, there is hope.”

‘Yellow Wallpaper’
‘Birds of Prey’
Inspired by mythology and folklore, Jena Ataras' 'Guardians of The Whispering Woods' imagines a protective pact between children and the natural world.
‘Mediator’
‘Queen of Crows’
Inspired by mythology and folklore, Jena Ataras' 'Guardians of The Whispering Woods' imagines a protective pact between children and the natural world.
‘Sea Goddess’
‘Sunset Lilly’
‘Gloomy Girl’
‘Search for Sunshine’
Inspired by mythology and folklore, Jena Ataras' 'Guardians of The Whispering Woods' imagines a protective pact between children and the natural world.
‘The Piercing Caul’

Jena Ataras: Website | Instagram

All photos published with permission of Jena Ataras.

Want to be featured on NOT REAL ART? Email editor@notrealart.com with a short introduction and a link to your online portfolio or three images of your work.

Morgan Laurens

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.

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