Month: January 2019

Sonic Space: Interview with Michael Junokas

This is an excerpt from Sight Specific’s interview with sound artist Michael Junokas. Presented through Sixty Regional. In partnership with pt.fwd, a new series of contemporary music and sonic arts performances featuring new work by local and regional artists in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, Sight Specific will be publishing conversations between the featured artists and pt.fwd director Eddie Breitweiser. Michael Junokas will be performing on Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 8pm at the McLean County Arts Center. All pt.fwd performances are free and open to the public. Follow pt.fwd on Facebook and Instagram for more information, including upcoming performance dates. Eddie: For the pt.fwd performance in February, we wanted to have a conversation with you so that we could get more familiar with your work. Today we wanted to talk about three different areas: history, region, and fun. So first, historically speaking, can you place the work you’re going to be performing for us? We ask that because part of the charge that we put on our pt.fwd performers is for them to bring something new that they haven’t …

Review: Reclaiming the Crown, The Footwork King’s Battle with Money Bail

It was spring 2016 and Devoureaux Wolf was on the rise. Also known as “King Detro, Chicago’s footwork king,” Wolf’s dancing career was taking off: he’d won numerous dance competitions, hosted a dance show on Wala Cam TV, and had just started his own program, Dance N Out, that aimed to steer youth on the West Side off the street and onto the dance floor. He never expected getting a ride home from a friend’s brother would radically alter his life’s course. But that’s exactly what happened. The car was pulled over and Wolf was quickly dragged out by Chicago police officers, who then arrested him and charged him with assaulting them. Though the driver had the foresight to film the encounter to disprove the police’s account, simply being charged landed Wolf in Cook County Jail with a $3,000 bond that he could not afford. Over the next three and a half months, Wolf would nearly lose his apartment, his hosting job, and his connection to his community. On top of that, Wolf’s uncle passed …

Stories of Migration & Transformation: An Interview with OCAD’s Reyna Wences

Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) describes themselves “an undocumented-led group that organizes against deportations, detention, criminalization, and incarceration of Black, brown, and immigrant communities in Chicago and surrounding areas. Through grassroots organizing, legal and policy work, direct action and civil disobedience, and cross-movement building, we aim to defend our communities, challenge the institutions that target and dehumanize us, and build collective power. We fight alongside families and individuals challenging these systems to create an environment for our communities to thrive, work, and organize with happiness and without fear.” OCAD was born in 2013 as a natural evolution from the founders’ early days leading what was then known as Immigrant Youth Justice League. I spoke with one of those founders, community organizer Reyna Wences, about her decade-long fight to transform policy and protect immigrants in Chicago. We also talked about the role of art in OCAD campaigns. Everything from banner drops to protest signs to public murals have played a role in building the immigrant rights movement in Little Village and beyond. Reyna talked about that …

Free Write Arts & Literacy, and the Work of Justice Within (and Without) the Walls of Juvenile Justice

This project asked us to envision justice. It offered the arts as a lens. As I first began to wrap my mind around the Envisioning Justice initiative (“Bringing Chicago together to examine and reimagine the criminal justice system through a creative lens”), I entered a rabbit hole of unanswerable and annoyingly abstract questions, like, what is art? (Beauty? Truth? Life? Fantasy?) And, what is art for? (Self-expression? Transcendence? Joy? Education? Justice?) Can it really be for justice? And then, of course, what is justice? How does something as wishy-washy and abstract as art bear on something as heavy and real as incarceration? In the two articles I published previously for the Envisioning Justice writing residency, I included responses to the prompt, “How do you envision justice?” from two artists who have been working within Illinois jails and prisons for years. Both responses were not cynical, but rather the opposite; they were tired of the question. It’s the work, not the envisioning of the work, that needs to get done, they seemed to say. Here’s Sarah …

Teaching Classes Inside, Building Knowledge Outside: An Interview with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project

The Illinois Department of Corrections is made up of 28 prisons that hold nearly 44,000 people. While the number of inmates has steadily increased since 2000, Illinois prisons followed a national trend in increasing sentence terms due to mandatory minimums and truth-in-sentencing laws. Alongside the trend towards longer sentencing, the 1994 Crime Bill Act eliminated low-income incarcerated people’s access to Pell Grants for higher education, dramatically decreasing the amount of educational programming in prisons. Amid instability and overcrowding, incarcerated people make art, get married, have children, and live entire lives that the outside world hears little about. Artist and instructor Sarah Ross taught Art History classes at Danville Correctional Center through a remaining community college program, where she met incarcerated artists, did critiques and put together shows for the outside. When she was asked to teach at Stateville Maximum Security Prison in 2011, that experience informed the values she brought in to her classes. Ross reached out to her networks to invite more people on as instructors to offer incarcerated people a range of educators and …

Nurturing Community: Interview with George Wilson of BBF Family Services

Since last year, BBF Family Services has functioned as the community focal point, or hub, for the Envisioning Justice initiative in the neighborhood of North Lawndale.  In the fall, I spoke separately to Rufus Williams, BBF President and CEO, and Dominique Steward, Envisioning Justice Hub Director for North Lawndale, about programming at BBF and its role in the initiative, which seeks to bring awareness to the impact of incarceration in communities across Chicago. Williams and Steward both recommended I talk to George Wilson, a Youth Mentor at BBF, for a rich, ground-level perspective on the direct services BBF provides to North Lawndale youth. Wilson and I met at BBF after I finished an early shift at UCAN, another social service agency in North Lawndale. In the social service industry, Wilson and I are peers, each direct-service providers to youth. But UCAN is a residential treatment center (among other things), where youth from all over (and, in fact, some from North Lawndale) are assigned to live by the state. Wilson, on the other hand, works with youth from the community, in the …

In Conversation with Artist Jireh L. Drake

Even if you haven’t met Jireh L. Drake (they/them) before, you may have heard their voice bouncing off the walls of a CTA platform–laughing, chanting or freestyling. Always enfolded within the city’s cacophonous soundscape. Always amongst people. Their spirit and energy can be felt even before they are seen. Jireh is a Black trans artist, curator, organizer and non-binary baddie who uses mixed media to explore the interdependency of social structures, salient identities, and history. Through drawing, they illustrate the sensations of movement and texture that overlap to visually evoke the interconnectedness of power, race, people, ideas, and cultural-historical movements. In their work, everyday life, Black queer existence, and experiences are unearthed and unpacked. They are a founding member of For the People Artists Collective, a squad of Black and Artists of Color who also organize and create work that “uplifts and projects struggles, resistance, liberation, and survival within and for marginalized communities and movements.” Their work, it seems, is a reaction to a feeling, a moment, or a conversation. Because of this, it always feels …

Faces of Hyde Park with Brian Carroll

I must have stumbled upon Brian’s work when I first moved to Chicago — roughly five years ago — where I found my home in Hyde Park. It’s been years and I’m still here, still walking down 55th, taking a left, passing The Cove and finding a sunny spot at Promontory Point. After five years I have come to know familiar faces, people who I’ve never spoken to but I’ve seen every morning. When I stopped into Open Produce, the local grocery store, this summer, a regular customer stopped me and said, “I didn’t see you at the lake this morning. I brought Bridget, but we must have missed you.” Bridget, his dog, is always swimming over to me during my morning dips. We usually talk for a few moments when I exit the water, but it’s nothing monumental. But there he is, every morning, and there I am, too, like clockwork waiting to see each other on our morning swim. Since following him on social media years ago, I’ll scroll through my feed and I’ll stop, and smile, as …

Arial view of Stateville Correctional Center.

Smiling Behind the Sun: An Interview with Danny Franklin

Libyans sometimes refer to being arrested and taken away without warning as being “taken behind the sun.” This interview series celebrates—through conversations with formerly-incarcerated artists and their allies—the ways in which an artistic, creative life can transmute the impact and redefine the legacy of an experience within the prison-industrial complex. Danny Franklin is an actor and producer of the one-act play “A Day at Stateville.” The play was written collectively by a creative writing class of incarcerated students at Stateville Correctional Center, working under the guidance of attorney and Stateville volunteer Jim Chapman. It utilizes Augusto Boal’s applied theatrical approach to drama in an attempt to foment revolutionary change and is performed on the outside by men who were once confined at Stateville themselves. To date, more than 150 productions have taken place in churches, schools, and community organizations throughout Illinois. In 1997, after serving 12 years at Stateville, Danny Franklin came home to Chicago and founded Reaching Back Ministry. He’s been working with and on behalf of formerly incarcerated citizens ever since, helping to …

Locating Your Practice in ‘Todros Geller: Strange Worlds’ with Curator Susan Weininger

Todros Geller, (1889-1949), was a Jewish-American artist born in Ukraine, immigrating to Canada and later Chicago in 1906, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. He became a prominent artist during his time, having a hand in many organizations in Chicago and working with such artists as Charles White. The exhibition Todros Geller: Strange Worlds showcases the diverse work—in style, subject matter, and medium—that Geller created throughout his lifetime; and is hosted at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Learning, an organization that began as the College of Jewish studies, where Todros Geller taught for many years. Many of the objects from the exhibition come from the institute’s extensive collection of Jewish art and historic, ritual objects, a collection that Todros Geller began. Co-curator of the exhibition Dr. Susan Weininger explains Geller’s interest in Jewish art, “One of the things that [Geller] pursued his whole life was the idea of a Jewish art museum. He knew that there was a history of Jewish art [and] he traveled to study that history.” Dr. Weininger and …

A Tender Offering: The Sculpture of Patricia Whalen Keck

Foreign yet familiar. The sculptures of Patricia Whalen Keck stand still yet so full of emotion.  Their bronze forms, vulnerable and gentle, greet the viewer as they approach them. Keck’s work has a soft, soothing presence; tapping into something within all of us. Informed by the need to protect and give voice, traits common to all people, Keck’s work takes on a certain sentimentality, a quiet kindness, that embraces the viewer. She taps into the history of humanity, ideas and emotions universal. Keck considers herself a figurative artist. There is a acute attention to detail in her rendering of her forms that stems from her time spent with them. Time is a huge component of Keck’s work. The time spent creating each piece, the length of the lost wax casting process, gives Keck the time to pour herself into the work. She has said she has made work for the time spent on it. This can be felt by the viewer when interacting with the work. The time and emotion spent on the piece is …

An Interview with Hananne Hanafi of YolloCalli Arts Reach

Tucked away on the second floor of the Boys & Girls Club on 28th & Ridgeway in Little Village is  Yollocalli Arts Reach, a dynamic program that has been providing free visual, digital and media arts programming to young aspiring creators since 1997. In 2012, Yollocalli made Little Village home, and has a second studio location through a partnership with the Chicago Park District at Barrett Park in Pilsen that serves as an artist in residency space and provides free workshops. I caught up with Programs Coordinator Hananne Hanafi in YolloCalli’s vibrant space to learn more about the ways she and her colleagues are empowering creative youth in Little Village to express themselves through art.   Anjali Misra: How did you all end up in this particular space and this particular community? Hananne Hanafi: The National Museum [of Mexican Art] started the program and originally the space was located in Pilsen, and it was on the corner, it’s where the Giordano’s is now at 18th and Blue Island. So it was there for years and …

Intimate Justice: Hyegyeong Choi

“Intimate Justice” looks at the intersection of art and sex and how these actions intertwine to serve as a form of resistance, activism, and dialogue in the Chicago community. For this installment, we talked to Hyegyeong Choi in the summer over the phone about friends with benefits, violence in sex, and to formality in painting.  This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  S. Nicole Lane: You’re new to New York, but can you maybe talk about the city and the community there and if it differs any way from what you experienced? Hyegyeong Choi: Sure. I had such a strong community in Chicago from grad school at SAIC in Chicago. It was like a family environment. I know or see a lot of people whenever I go to openings. When I moved to New York, I only knew a few people here. My best friend, Seth Stolbun, who is also my collector said “It’s the same thing. You will know everyone since it’s a small world like you had in Chicago.” I had a …

Little Village Through A Looking Glass: An Interview with Media Instructor Mario Contreras

As part of Chicago’s Envisioning Justice project to address community concerns around criminal justice through arts education, Open Center for the Arts in Little Village worked with teaching artists to bring specialized courses focused on immigration, incarceration, and political organizing to their students. Filmmaker and media instructor Jesús Mario Contreras was one such educator, teaching a series of filmmaking classes to youth and young adults from the neighborhood. He shared with me about his particular teaching philosophies of art as cultural communication, youth allyship, and the importance of self-reflection. Anjali Misra: How did you become involved with Open Center? Mario Contreras: Pepe Vargas from The Chicago Latino Film Festival recommended a friend of mine for  the job of instructor. Arlen Parsa, director of The Way to Andina, thought I’d enjoy the opportunity. AM: Can you describe your work with Open Center? What was day-to-day teaching like, and what were some highlights (best personal moments with students, staff, community members, etc.)? MC: I was one of many instructors that Open Center students worked with over the …

Black Birth Matters at #LetUsBreathe Collective

The #LetUsBreathe Collective is an alliance of artists and activists who come together, organizing through a creative lens to imagine a world without prisons and police. The Collective operates the Breathing Room, a Black-led liberation headquarters for arts, organizing, and healing on Chicago’s South Side. May each of our beginnings be honored, as they did not begin without deep struggle. Keeping community is keeping us together. It’s unity. The #LetUsBreathe Collective’s partnership with Black Birth Matters represented a cross of a cultural exchange of knowledge, Black economic wealth, and education about the experiences of Black women in preparing for, experiencing, and learning about life before and after birth. Black Birth Matters is a “cultural campaign to uplift the life-giving power of Black women and people with wombs,” says Kristiana Rae Colón, the creator of Black Sex Matters and a poet, playwright, and abolitionist. With her comrade and partner, creative Malik Alim, she welcomed their new vessel of life, Baby Alim Colón, into the world at the inaugural Black Birth Matters community event. Focusing on Black birthwork, doula, and …

Shifting the Art Education Paradigm: A Conversation with Arnie Aprill of Envisioning Justice

When I asked Chicago-based arts and learning curriculum expert Arnie Aprill to sum up the Envisioning Justice initiative, he told me it was  “about respecting the knowledge of [Chicago] communities, not paying service to project funders.” Since the launch of this city-wide initiative, Aprill has been asking the hard questions, like “how do communities build their own capacity for healthy living? How are these communities being disenfranchised?” The catalyst of disenfranchisement that the Envisioning Justice program sites are addressing is the criminal justice system. Aprill works closely with hub directors (community leaders co-facilitating place-based Envisioning Justice projects) to offer activities that empower youth and families with the knowledge, tools, and resources to define their own futures outside of the seemingly ever-present gaze of the criminal justice system in Chicago. From Aprill’s assessment, many West and South Side neighborhood leaders face an uphill battle to not have their communities’ health be defined by where they fall in mass incarceration statistics. Aprill has always seen his role as helping already established neighborhood programs build capacity to address …

Locating Your Practice in ‘African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race,’ with D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem

A century’s legacy of Black designers working at the nexus of the quotidian, politics, history, and market capitalism is brought into focus through African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, on view at the Chicago Cultural Center until March 3, 2019. The show’s objects and design content show generations of Black designers fusing a shared past and visions of the future within their historical contexts. This chronicle highlights designers and artists producing in many mediums including Charles Dawson, Charles White, Jay Jackson, Zelda “Jackie” Ormes, Charles Harrison, LeRoy Winbush, William McBride, Sylvia (Laini) Abernathy, and Emmett McBain. Particular emphasis is given to how 20th century Black designers and artists in Chicago reframed the conception of the Black consumer within the market economy. By the same token, the concerns, aesthetics, pressures, and values of Chicago’s dynamic Black communities are embedded in each object. Dr. Margaret T. Burroughs expressed this responsiveness when discussing the origins of the South Side Community Arts Center, quoted in the exhibition materials: “As young black artists, we looked …

Inside the Just Art Program at Cook County Jail: Part 2

Continuing the Envisioning Justice project’s coverage of Just Art, I sat down with Aimee Krall-Lanoue, a teaching artist who has facilitated weekly writing classes at Cook County Jail since May. Just Art, which began in 2015, currently consists of three teaching artists who instruct on visual art and writing. Krall-Lanoue is also an English professor and writing center director at Concordia University, and specializes in basic writing. She is interested in the ways that language is used to construct hierarchies, and increasing political awareness around language. One of her larger life goals is to create community writing centers all over the city, staffed by (paid!) writers who live in those communities. Over coffee, we discussed Just Art, pedagogy, and the structural barriers that prevent people from coming to writing. Jordan Sarti: Can you talk a little about pedagogy and how you teach classes differently at a basic writing class at Concordia versus at the jail? Aimee Krall-Lanoue: This is one of the things that I was very concerned about, was that I can make a lot …