Interview with Artist and Musician Nisi Jacobs

by | May 18, 2019

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Nisi Jacobs is an Artist and Musician, and a Native New Yorker. Here, we talk about her life, work, and views.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Was religion part of early family life?

Nisi Jacobs: No, religion was not part of my family upbringing because my family left i behind. They are both atheists. They raised my brother and I to be atheists. They were fine with me exploring. Eventually, I simply agreed that I am also an atheist.

Jacobsen: What was educational and professional background? Some of the highlight reels, in terms of university education and the professional life that took up most of the time to this point.

Jacobs: I went to school for painting. I went to Cooper Union for painting. I went to a science and math high school. It was all math and science. Although, it was focused on religion in either of those two institutions. Pretty soon after school, I did not go to graduate school.

I went into computers and became an Apple certified trainer for a bunch of years. Also, I worked briefly for an Apple programmer when he was defining Final Cut Pro while it was in its infancy. From that, I got into video editing.

I have been a 3D video editor for about nearly 2 decades now. So, there is no religious connection there. Most of the work edited is purely about aesthetic experience and not about dogma or institutionalized groups.

I would have a tough time doing anything that was part of organized religion if that makes any sense.

Jacobsen: Why does religion not appeal to you? What makes this regular secular life in America more appealing to you?

Jacobs: Because I had a huge heavy-handed dose of religion in my first four years. My father was briefly positioned in Upstate New York in an Evangelical-like town called Binghamton.

It is so backward that one of my aunts, when she was out as a Jew at her job, her friends and coworkers asked if they could feel her tail and horns.

I brought there for the first four years. I was not allowed in the kids’ homes that I played within the neighbourhood, except for one family that was Italian Catholic.

For the other kids around the neighbourhood that was not Catholic but were Protestant and Evangelical-born-again kids, I would sit outside and wait for them to finish lunch.

I knew something was odd. But I did not analyze it. I was four-years-old. My father was a well-known filmmaker in the avant-garde film world with a film that he put out. It is considered a classic. It is played at Pompidou and many great museums.

It is my mother breastfeeding me. The Church came and protested and ran articles that my father was Jewish pornographer because his wife showed her breast with his child. My best friend’s parents became born again, then I was not allowed to do play dates with her.

This informed me very strongly, very early on. These religions meant fear, threat. I knew something was going on. That my parents were not mentioning because they were scared. You pick all that up. We had this brutal experience, early on, with religion.

When we moved to the city, it is like you are in this fabulous soup of every culture, every ethnicity, and every religion. You can safely hideout and be whatever you want to be. You can be an atheist. You can be gay. You can be trans. Most of the time, you feel safe.

Jacobsen: Why do some Abrahamic religions, in particular – because the examples were Protestant and Catholic, relate to antisemitism in the 20th and 21st centuries, at least?

Jacobs: I think that what complicates that is that we all know the scapegoat. But there is a lot of subconscious reasons why the Jew repeatedly in history becomes the focal point when there are economic insecurity and economic and cultural instability.

When one form of civilization is starting to fade and another is about to take its place, that is when a lot of society becomes anxious and insecure. They want to then say, “Us, we are home. Home and nationalism and identity are important.”

Anything that is ambiguous and complicated becomes threatening. So, Jews have always lived through this range of being secular, orthodox, fundamentalist, completely integrated into secular society, up and down the ladder.

For whatever reason, during those insecure waves, I do not really know why. But it has been the case that the Jews have been a target to focus one’s anxiety on. I think that the way that we get out ahead of this, this time around now, is because of social media; and, we are connected globally now.

It is for the first time when we have this global insecurity, mostly caused by climate change. But nobody is talking about that. We are just ending up with these far-right nationalist leaders taking over country-by-country and then being supported.

Women are becoming much more central. It is very complicated. But Jews have been white when it suits people and not white when it does not suit people. Rich Jews, poor Jews, smart Jews, not so smart Jews, successful, unsuccessful, has a home,  doesn’t have a home, Israel, whatever, I have hope, bizarrely, that the moment that we are in with social media may help.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Nisi.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott:

Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.

Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.

Photo by jonathan riley on Unsplash

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