Author: Tempestt Hazel

A portrait of Tara Aisha Willis, the Associate Curator of Performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Tara is standing with elbows on a ledge, hands up toward her face and fingers intertwined. She stands in a space where there are plants and golden yellow lights hanging from the ceiling. Photo by Kristie Kahn.

Dance Manifold: A Conversation with Tara Aisha Willis

“…completely new yet familiar territory.” These words echoed after I revisited the accompanying publication for Relations, a performance that brought together pioneering artists Bebe Miller, Ishmael Houston-Jones, and Ralph Lemon on the MCA Stage in November 2018. In her introduction for the publication, curator Tara Aisha Willis offers a series of questions and propositions that draw from the historically-anchored yet generative tone set by Miller, Houston-Jones, and Lemon, while also honoring the shapeshifting and indefinable nature of Black dance and movement practices. When considered in full, Willis, too, is the “new yet familiar” manifested in many ways. As a returning Chicago native whose dance career has developed largely outside of the city, there’s a fresh familiarity to her perspective. The new is also visible through her role as a curator of performance and when considering the artists and projects she is bringing to the MCA Stage. Then, an additional familiarity is present within her work due to an awareness of historical context, a body of knowledge that is harnessed, in part, through her work as …

Art + Love: On Collaboration, Practice, Space and Relationships

In 2012, Sixty writer Zachary Johnson challenged “the image of the lone artist toiling away in their studio” with Art + Love, a series of interviews that asked artists and their partners to share how they make art, love, and partnership work. Every couple years we continue to revisit the conversation with a new group of artists, writers, designers, educators, and curators whose love for one another helps to fuel their life and work within and outside of the studio, exhibition space, stage, or page. This year we’re hearing from interdisciplinary artists Ayanah Moor and Jamila Raegan, Houston-based artists Lovie Olivia and Preetika Rajgariah, artists Will Bishop and Grace Needlman, curator Jennifer Sova and musician Tiana Jimenez-Srisook, artist Andrés Lemus-Spont and writer Marya Spont-Lemus, and designer Dan Sullivan and artist Edra Soto.   

Art + Love: Ayanah Moor + Jamila Raegan

As part of our Art + Love series, interdisciplinary artists Ayanah Moor and Jamila Raegan reflect on the ways that their distinct practices influence one another and the ways in which their relationship influences the work they make. On where it all started: Jamila Raegan: Ayanah and I met a little haphazardly during a visit she made to Brooklyn in April 2014 with a mutual friend of ours. Funny enough, they were crashing with me at my home. I remember so vividly the moment Ayanah and I met. I was working and Ayanah and our dear friend Alisha were picking up keys. Ayanah would say–which is true–that we met in front of the Biggie Smalls mural at the corner of Fulton and South Portland Avenues. It was a rare experience. I remember every little detail–the sun on her face, her eyes were stars, her smile (her gorgeous smile), and her tattoos. A first sight kind of love, truly. Ayanah Moor: I used to live in Pittsburgh and during that time I became really close friends with …

Art + Love: Marya Spont-Lemus + Andrés Lemus-Spont

As part of our Art + Love series, Marya Spont-Lemus and Andrés Lemus-Spont reflect on their experiences collaborating with one another and the ways in which their relationship has and continues to influence their individual practices. On where it all started: Marya Spont-Lemus: We met at Maria’s in Bridgeport, at a goodbye party for my co-worker. Though I liked my co-worker very much, I was only planning to go for a polite 15 minutes, and then continue on home to get work done on a Friday night. Andrés Lemus-Spont: I was biking around and wanted to hang out with Marya’s co-worker, who was my friend from architecture school. At the party, I started talking only to my friend, but pretty soon I noticed Marya. At first I didn’t see her as much as sense her. She just had this beautiful glow that I’d never experienced. M: I actually remember that you arrived right at 6 o’clock, because that’s when I’d been planning to leave. But something told me to stay—I saw your glow, too. A: When …

Art + Love: Jennifer Sova + Tiana Jimenez-Srisook

As part of our Art + Love series, Jennifer Sova and Tiana Jimenez-Srisook reflect on the ways in which they share space, share ideas, and hold deep admiration for one another’s work. On where it all started: Jennifer Sova: We met in a class at Columbia College in 2016. The class was called Women in Art, Music, and Literature which we think is hilarious being that we are women in art and music. It seems like a modern-day queer romantic comedy. We became fast friends and fell in love quickly, too. The things that first bonded us; music, laughter, books, soaking up the small things, and general curiosity are still the things that we stay up too late talking about. Tiana Jimenez-Srisook: Jenn and I met in college–– a fact that we both find quite silly given the cliché. We were in the same women’s studies course and coincidentally sat next to each other only to spark up a seamless bout of quick witty banter and conversations about big ideas, art, culture, politics, literature, food, …

Art + Love: Edra Soto + Dan Sullivan

As part of our Art + Love series, interdisciplinary artist Edra Soto and fabricator/designer Dan Sullivan talk about their distinct practices, the places where their ideas merge, and the ways their relationship has influenced their work. On where it all started: Edra: Dan and I met at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. I was a grad student and he was working at the registrar’s office. I remember seeing him for the first time and wondering to myself who he was. I looked at him for a while but he didn’t see me until later. I was standing in line to register for some courses and I remember he asked me to step over. I wasn’t fully aware, but soon enough I realized he pull me off the line asked me to have a seat at his desk. Nothing further than that. Some days later, I was walking all frazzled up down the admin office hallways and he saw me and immediately stopped me. He asked me what happen and I …

Art + Love: Lovie Olivia + Preetika Rajgariah

As part of our Art + Love series, Houston-based artists Lovie Olivia and Preetika Rajgariah discuss the early days of their once long distance relationship and how it feels to now be reunited in their home town while also sharing a studio space. On where it all started: Lovie Olivia: In May 2013 I found myself at a dance performance/rehearsal by Jasmine Hearn and Jon Shronks, two dear friends in the performing arts scene in Houston. Preetika was there as an event photographer and I connected with her presence immediately. We were introduced at the end of the performance. A few months later we learned that we were both instructors at the locally popular non-profit gallery and school, Art League Houston. Sometime after one of our our exhibitions, (I think mine) Preetika slipped in my DM on Facebook inquiring about my process of choosing models for my paintings, explaining that she was a model and available if I needed more (brown) subjects. We had that initial meeting at my studio about 6 months after because …

Art + Love: Grace Needlman and Will Bishop

 As part of our Art + Love series, interdisciplinary artist and educator Grace Needlman and theater artist Will Bishop share a little bit about how being partners influences their practices and their origin story. On where it all started: Grace: We met at Redmoon, a spectacle theater company that operated in Chicago from 1990 to 2015. I had just moved to Chicago and was interning at Redmoon for the summer. Will was the Associate Producer. So, he was kind of my boss–not directly, but close enough to joke about it. On our first date, we went to a concert at the Lincoln Hall. We were biking home together after the concert, and I hit a pothole under the bridge on Halsted just south of Milwaukee and took a nosedive. I was really embarrassed, so brushed it off like it was no big deal. I biked all the way back to Hyde Park, where I was living, with a quarter-sized hole in my knee. I couldn’t walk for 3 days, including my first day of work at …

The Vessels that Marva Made: An Interview with Members of Sapphire & Crystals

“I am a strong woman; my strength as a Black woman pays homage to what I call the Sapphire Spirit. A woman who is sassy, jazzy, spiritual, brainy, the healer–she is Mother Earth in its grand splendor. I salute this spirit in all Black women everywhere. The recognition of my own Sapphire Spirit provided me with the knowledge I needed to speak. My name is Marva and I speak through my art, my voice extends all the way back to the first known human being who was a Black woman. Going forth, through my ancestors, I am creating new symbols and new directions, moving from my own individual voice to that of the collective voice. I now join with sixteen other African American Women Artists and form the Sapphire & Crystals group. As a collective we step forward to the world.” –Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly In 1986 artists Marva Lee Pitchford-Jolly and Felicia Grant Preston started meeting in Pitchford-Jolly’s home to discuss how to continue supporting women artists after the group Mud Peoples Black Women’s Resource …

The Thrival Geographies of Shani Crowe, Andres L. Hernandez, and Amanda Williams

Of the 2,240 licensed Black architects working in the United States, only 440 of them identify as Black women. While this number might increase slightly by adding those who have a degree in architecture and aren’t licensed, or who work primarily in teaching, this number becomes even more sobering when you consider the fact that there are about 109,748+ licensed architects in the entire country. My mention of these numbers isn’t simply a commentary on representation. Since architecture is a major influence on how we live and move through our daily lives, be it the spaces of home, work, school, play or otherwise, it’s unsettling to think that an overwhelming amount of spaces are likely conceived of and designed without someone like me in the room, on the team, or even in mind as the possible end user. After learning those numbers, it’s hard for me not to feel the significance of any time spent in conversation with two people who operate within that rare group. Andres L. Hernandez and Amanda Williams are architects and …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Angelique Power

I met Angelique Power while I was interning in the development department at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2010. Although she wasn’t in that department, I can clearly remember the times I shared a room with her. The first time was during a meeting that she masterfully managed, keeping things clear and on-point, with everyone there leaving with their marching orders on how to move things forward. I never thought I could have such a transformative experience in something as basic as a staff meeting, but I was in complete awe. The determined spirit that led me to the office and classroom doorways of my Columbia College teachers and professors was the same spirit that helped me gather the confidence to step into hers.   Since then she has been a steady voice of reason and sound advice–which over the years has manifested as a consistent and piercing blend of love, logic, and honest but compassionate interrogation of self and others. And it is because of her guidance that I have stepped into …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Sherry Hazel

My parents, James & Sherry Hazel, are my first and continue to be, by far, my most influential and consistent teachers. What can I say about them? As a sometimes strange, incredibly sensitive, introverted, and creative child, I wasn’t the easiest one to parent. I was (and in many ways still am) stubborn, emotional, inward-focused, and constantly questioning everything–all traits that I undoubtedly got from my parents and also traits that can cause many sparks. But in addition to my inherited Hazel quirks, I also inherited all of my foundational strengths from these two–some born out of the fire of the child/parent head-bumping, but mostly born out of a deep, unwavering, and persistent love that they modeled for me and my siblings–love for friends, family, life, and work. I could write a book, paint the sky, and fill the ocean with the lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn from my parents, and all of the loving wisdom they hold. But for now I’ll let my mother, a.k.a. Momma Hazel or Newma, tell you about her teachers. This …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Remembering Sabina Ott

I couldn’t come up with a short list of my teachers without including the beloved artist, educator, space-maker and force-of-nature, Sabina Ott. And since she is no longer here for me to pose this question to her, I’ll share, at length, how important she has been in my life and the life of Sixty Inches From Center. In addition to this being a space for my teachers, this piece on Sabina also serves another purpose. Although we are known as an arts publication, at the heart of Sixty’s mission is a deep passion for legacy-nurturing and legacy-keeping for Chicago artists—especially those most vulnerable to the erasure that happens so often within art historical narratives. It is also in that spirit that I write this. Sixty started in 2010 with incredible support from a group of artists, historians, and mentors out of Columbia College  whose commitment and investment in me and my co-founding partner at the time, Nicolette Caldwell, was bottomless and generous in a way that often left us speechless. Sabina Ott is one of …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Amy M Mooney, Ph.D.

Similar to my experience with Dawoud Bey and Cecil McDonald, Jr., I met Amy M. Mooney, Ph.D. because of relentless determination. While I was an art history student at Columbia College Chicago, I was set on meeting the person who had literally wrote the book about Archibald Motley, Jr., and who also taught all of the classes I wanted to take–although they were unavailable because she was on sabbatical at that time. Since then, Dr. Mooney has sparked so many things in my life–including my first published piece of writing, Freedom in the Fragment, which was a reflection on a seminar with historian Richard J. Powell, which I was able to attend through her invitation. Most recently, I’ve gone on to assist her with her most recent research on Black photo studios in early 20th century Chicago, and particularly the incredible work of photographer William E. Woodard. You’ll be able to catch her work as part of Art Design Chicago through the project Say It With Pictures, a series of programs that explore the impact …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Madeline Murphy Rabb

Where to begin? I first learned about the art of collecting Black art and supporting artists in that way from Madeline Murphy Rabb. I first learned the value and knowledge that a personal arts library–with an emphasis on Black and African diasporic art history–could hold. I met Madeline during an internship I held at her art consultant company, Madeline Rabb, Inc. She gave me the incredible task of organizing her book collection of over 1,000 books over the summer before my last year at Columbia College Chicago.  I have her to thank for my love of art books, for my deep love and appreciation of Martin Puryear, and for her being an example of how to occupy multiple roles within the cultural community at once–she has been everything from the Director of the Office of Fine Arts under Mayor Harold Washington, to a fantastic printmaker and jewelry maker, to an advocate for the collecting of fine art through her consulting work. She’s an example of how to do work on multiple fronts while always maintaining …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Barbara Koenen

I first met Barbara Koenen when I got my first “real” arts admin job at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) in 2010. I was a coordinator for Studio Chicago, a yearlong collaborative project that focused on the artist’s studio. From this position and still alongside Barbara’s leadership, I went on to do work for more of DCASE’s large city-wide initiatives like the Creative Chicago Expo (Now Lake FX), Chicago Artists Month, and Chicago Artists Resource. It was from seeing her tireless work to provide resources, connections, and opportunities for artists that I was able to develop my own philosophy and advocacy for artists and the organizations that support them. Someone like Barbara Koenen, who lifts up so many people at once, obviously has quite a few teachers. Here are some of them, in her own words. Her response has been edited for clarity and length.   Barbara Koenen Mrs. Braun  lived down the block from my family starting when we moved in until after I left for college. She loved life and …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Dawoud Bey

I first met Dawoud Bey as a student at Columbia College Chicago. Somehow he was teaching a Photo I class alongside Cecil McDonald Jr.–such a powerful pair.  Even though I was an art history student and I didn’t need a photo class, I signed up as a way to spend time learning from two photographers I deeply admired. Since that class, Dawoud has been instrumental in my development as a curator, writer, and historian–influencing all aspects of my personal ethos and how I approach all of my practices. I’ve turned to him for advice countless times over the years and we’ve had impromptu catch-ups in coffee shops and on street corners in Hyde Park. I have looked to the perceptive and careful way that he talks about and practices his everything–image-making, writing, teaching, and life–as a guiding light and example for how to create and celebrate Black excellence while also remaining open to what can be discovered in the vastness of the world we’re living in, in addition to that Blackness. He’s taught me about the …

Who Are Your Teachers?: After Richard Hunt at the Koehnline Museum of Art

This summer the exhibition Sculpting A Chicago Artist: Richard Hunt and His Teachers Nellie Barr and Egon Weiner opened at the Koehnline Museum of Art at Oakton Community College, curated by Nathan Harpaz. Using his relationship with these two teachers, this exhibition taps into some of Hunt’s most formative years and the people he gravitated to as he moved closer to his calling–from adolescence to his college days. As an artist who has been making work in Chicago for over 60 years, Richard Hunt has had an incredible influence–not just on artists, not just on Chicago, but from coast to coast and throughout the world. In a way that is often quietly kept and unseen, this exhibition shifts our understanding of Hunt’s influence in a new direction that positions him as the influenced–something we aren’t often lucky enough to see in an exhibition space, but rather is reserved for the pages of books. His resonance and expansive presence first registered to me in 2009 when I attended the James A. Porter Colloquium at Howard University. Determined to find a quiet …

Who Are Your Teachers?: Cecil McDonald, Jr.

I met Cecil McDonald, Jr. at the same time that I met Dawoud Bey–which was during the Photo I class at Columbia College Chicago that I didn’t need to take but wanted to as a fan of both of their work. Since that day, I never imagined that Cecil would be the kind of person who would continue to offer me some of the most exciting and terrifying growth opportunities that I would have in my recent career. First, he asked me to write about his series Domestic Observations & Occurrences for the 2014 Contact Sheet, which is also known as the Light Work Annual. This marked my first piece of writing published on a renowned and national platform. I was terrified and honored–which I can feel between the words whenever I read back on that essay. Then, years later, when Cecil was working on his new monograph, In the Company of Black, he asked to use that essay for the foreword of the book, but I insisted on writing something new. After knowing him for …

Life and Design Style: An Interview with Margot Harrington

Margot Harrington is a designer, but even as I write that statement it seems inadequate. While she has worked on and led projects centered around shaping websites, creating brands, dreaming up site-specific installations, and composing publications, the way she speaks of her work makes it clear that her design practice isn’t simply an occupation–it’s a lifestyle. Starting from her days growing up in a word and image-loving family in Minnesota, to now being a freelance designer with her company Pitch Union Design, an art director for Bitch Media, and a multidisciplinary artist, Margot’s design style has been developing and evolving in quiet and significant ways since before she was even exploring the question of what her lifework would be. Given the fact that she is an artist with a wide practice that collides with a mix of experiences and influences, our conversation touched on a range of topics. We discussed everything from the ways we stumble magnificently in order to discover what does and doesn’t work for our lives, to the importance of eastern medicine and self-preservation …

Home to Self: An Interview with Preetika Rajgariah

When talking to artist Preetika Rajgariah about how she arrived at her most recent body of work, I was struck by how a lexicon of movement naturally developed. She spoke about the strategies her family used to recreate the feel, warmth, and comfort of a home that was thousands of miles and oceans away after they settled in the city of Houston. She talked about how travel and relocation punctuated significant shifts in her work. She told me how one of her most commercially successful bodies of work addresses concepts of migration and accumulation but also whispers to how, aesthetically, macro perspectives mimic the micro and cellular. But while motion might be one of the most immediately legible themes that one can draw out of her work, it is stillness that has actually allowed her practice to move forward in substantial and  illuminating ways. Having discernment around what advice, suggestions, constructive criticisms are valid and useful and which ones counter her progression has allowed her work to bloom in ways that disrupt her original understandings of …