All posts filed under: Action

Image: Photo of the ensemble of "Parched" posed on the set. An actor stands center stage, looking straight ahead while holding a pitcher in front of their chest. They are surrounded by eight youths at various levels reaching longingly towards the pitcher, in their outstretched hands they each hold a water cup. Image courtesy of Joel Maisonet

Review: “Parched: Tales of Water, Pollution, and Theft” at Free Street Theater

I’m not saying that most Chicago theater is directionless and uncertain of what it’s trying to communicate. I’m not saying that it’s lacking in vitality. But if you’ve been in or around the community for more than a couple of years, you’ll start to notice a trend: feel-good-politics and virtue signaling taking precedent and place over well-articulated purposes and poetic truths (or truthful poetry). It’s the times, you know? Here we are, the 21st century, millennials searching for meaning and gen Z thirsting for justice, as the seeds of capitalism and white supremacy fulfill their nature as bloodthirsty mechanisms for deep extraction and a hollowing out of our planet, our souls, our home. What do we need other than the certainty of these things? So frequently, just the restatement of that conviction. And that seems to be enough for many people. I’m angry. I’m sad. If you’re reading this, I hope you’re angry and sad about what has been done to us. And I hope you recognize that reading this is not enough, nor is …

Smiling Behind the Sun: An Interview with Eric Blackmon

Sixteen By Eric Blackmon 15 years, 7 months, 4 weeks, 1 day, 16 hours, and 33 minutes to be exact. 5,724 dreadful days, 137,416 and a half hours, 8,244,993 miserable minutes. And I won’t forget a second of it. I missed 66 of my kid’s birthdays, 337 holidays, 16 vacations, 14 graduations, 11 funerals, First steps, first words, all of my 20s, half of my 30s, most of my life. I lost everything. Every dime I had, four appeals, friends, family, my fiancé, my relationship with my kids. At times I lost faith, Other times I lost hope, A few times I ever lost myself, But I survived. I survived the conditions. I survived the ornery, tyrannical officers; some wolfish, vulturous inmates. A stabbing, being jumped, two black eyes, two busted lips, one chipped tooth, a busted head, 6 stitches, 1 broken nose, 1 fractured arm, 1 concussion. The suffering, the pain, the loss. But I overcame. I endured. By never hearing, never seeing, never speaking, never caring, never feeling, never loving, never resting, never …

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 …

A Win for Humanity: Interview with Dominique Steward of BBF Family Services

Dominique Steward and I met at the first of several open houses to be held at BBF Family Services this year as part of the Envisioning Justice initiative. Entitled “Powerful Platforms: a Community’s Call to Action,” the open house was designed to bring awareness to the concerns central to Envisioning Justice, which invites Chicagoans from around the city to address the impact of incarceration in their communities. (I also met BBF Family Services President and CEO Rufus Williams at the open house, which included a roundtable discussion on police-community relations.) Steward moved from a longtime career at the College of DuPage to BBF Family Services in North Lawndale three years ago. After starting in development for the organization, she is currently the Envisioning Justice North Lawndale Hub Director.  I recently sat down with Steward on a quiet Saturday morning at BBF to discuss her vision for subsequent Envisioning Justice programming. I work for UCAN, another social service agency in North Lawndale, so I was particularly curious about her previous work on the agency’s development side, and …

Riding Interstellar Waves: A Performance Essay on Afro-Futurism and Time Travel from D. Denenge Duyst-Akpem

This essay exists as a record, a performance document and collaged concept map linking threads in an interstellar web charting the content of my lectures and presentations culled from over 25 years of study, teaching, sculpting, and performing, each coded element an entry point like portals to the vast arkestry of Afrofuturist future visioning. Highlights include references to performance ritual as the High Priestess of the Intergalactic Federation, Special Envoy to Mars, for the September 27, 2018 Decolonizing Mars/Becoming Interplanetary symposium convened by NASA/Blumberg Chair of Astrobiology Lucianne Walkowicz at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, and content from performance-lecture-poetics for “Afro-Futurism and Time Travel” at the University of Chicago’s Gray Center for Art and Inquiry and from The Ramm Riff featuring Black Light Primal Nun ‘A’ at Red Bull Arts NY for No Guts, No Galaxy slide show series as part of programming for the exhibition Rammellzee: Racing for Thunder. This is an experimental collage, ideas and poetics intertwined, a performance-lecture-poetic in multiple stanzas, a Time Travel Riff from the outposts of Afro-Futurist vision …

Aprils Fools and Their Universe: Kristiana Rae Colón and #LetUsBreathe Collective

Kristiana Rae Colón (she/her) is a poet, playwright, actor, educator, creator of Black Sex Matters, one half of brother-sister duo April Fools, co-director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective and hub director for Envisioning Justice at the Breathing Room. She is a wearer of many hats and force of nature in every piece of work she is a part of. I became aware of Kristiana through mutual comrades, and grew to know her work and learn from the intricacies within it all. As time went on, I had the pleasure of sharing a work space with Colón, and experienced her play “florissant & canfield,” written to shed light on the Ferguson Uprising and the murder of Mike Brown. It was an unforgettable moment. 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. This article was edited for length and clarity. Miranda Goosby: What …

Abolitionist Sarah-Ji Uses Photography To Reimagine Community Liberation

Sarah-Ji (she/her) is a movement photographer and abolitionist who documents freedom struggles in Chicago. She is also an active 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 struggle, resistance, liberation, and survival within and for marginalized communities and movements.” For nearly a decade she has created a visual archive of liberation struggles for Black, Brown, Indigenous, queer, trans, and intersex lives. She documents and sheds light on the everyday people of Chicago who show up and actively resist systemic, hyper-local and social oppression. Thus, her camera becomes a tool of liberation and a pathway toward envisioning a world without police and prisons, where struggle does not take precedence over love, justice, and community. Her photography illustrates the power of sustaining strong relationships as organizing artists while committing to the heavy lift of resistance and social activism. This interview was shortened for length and clarity.  Ireashia: Tell me a little about how you came to photography and what drew …

Aprils Fools and Their Universe: Damon Williams, Jr. and #LetUsBreathe Collective

Damon Williams, Jr. (he/him) is a poet, organizer, one half of brother-sister duo April Fools, co-director of the #LetUsBreatheCollective, and overall unique being. I first heard of his work through mutual comrades, through his and Daniel Kisslinger’s podcast Airgo, and through his rhymes, which embrace self-healing and accountability, and expel self-love and love of your neighbors. MG: Can you introduce yourself for me tell me a little about yourself? DW: I am Damon Williams, Jr. I am 25 years old, and I am a facilitator, teaching artist, organizer, and media and culture maker on the SouthSide of Chicago. MG: What does Chicago mean to you and how do you feel it’s energy affects people? DW: Chicago is home and Chicagoans are hometown people. It is a city that is landlocked, where we live upon this land taken from indigenous native people. It being in the “middle” of the country; being the “Second City,” named after it was rebuilt and thrived once again after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; it is not second to New …

On Incarceration, Quilting and Building Community at Homan Square

August of this year, Nichols Tower Artist-in-Residence Rachel Wallis held her first quilting circle where she invited participants to sew thoughts, plans, and dreams that female inmates at the Cook County prison have for their children. In different stages of incarceration, some of these women are awaiting a trial, some are being processed. These women are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters who were separated from their family as a result of imprisonment. On her website, artist Rachel Wallis describes herself as “an activist who uses art in organizing work, and an artist who engages in issues of racial and social justice.” As an extension of her art practice, Wallis approached the Cook County women’s facility with a series of quilting workshops to engage the inmates; the first of which took place in summer of 2018. Scheduled on a Saturday afternoon, Wallis began the three-hour workshop by inviting participants to sit in a circle. Before she entrusted the participants with the sewing, Wallis, along with facilitators Jamilah Bowden, a professional counselor at H’Art of Hope, and Audrey …

Restoring Community in North Lawndale: Interview with Rufus Williams of BBF Family Services

I met Rufus Williams at “Powerful Platforms: A Community’s Call to Action,” a BBF Family Services Open House event back in June, designed to bring community awareness to Envisioning Justice and BBF’s role as one of seven Envisioning Justice hubs throughout the city. Established in 1961 as a boxing gym for boys in the neighborhood, BBF (the initials reflect its former name, Better Boys Foundation) now provides resources for children and adults in North Lawndale, an area of Chicago historically vulnerable to political and social disenfranchisement. Current BBF programs address the broad developmental, educational, and employment needs of members of the community, including those reentering society from jail or prison. Williams is President and Chief Executive Officer of BBF Family Services. BBF is housed in a modern two-story building at 15th and Pulaski, luminous on the interior, with floor-to-ceiling windows on both floors that look onto an uncovered center courtyard. At the Open House there were arts and crafts for youngsters, and a community resource room where various local groups had set up tables, providing information …

Emerging Community Challenges around Incarceration with Free Write and Restorative Justice Community Court

Surveillance, criminalization, and budget cuts to public services impact communities, environmental contexts, policies, and institutions. These issues affect social needs and challenge community-oriented responses to political issues. All these factors collide in our carceral systems at both personal and society-wide levels, and contribute to recidivism. Communities continue to question and to seek solutions and alternatives beyond state-driven mechanisms. Recently in Chicago, many of the direct actions and conversations at the community, local, and state levels have been related to systemic injustices. Immigration enforcement, budget cuts to mental health services, and surging violence’s purported connection to the morals of black and brown communities, funding allocated to policing within the county have been a few of the topics at the forefront of debate. Located in Cook County, Free Write Arts & Literacy and the Restorative Justice Community Court (RJCC) offer two community-oriented approaches at the intersections of re-entry and incarceration. Both organizations attempt to mitigate the effects of detainment for incarceration-affected youth and adults through creative programming and peace circles which center the harm done from non-violent crimes on …

“Prisoners Are Always Resisting”: The 2018 Prison Strike

Children’s laughter bounced off the walls of the Co-Prosperity Sphere gallery as a group of about 40 people gathered for a “Day of Solidarity” on August 4 in support of an upcoming national prison strike. All afternoon, people filtered in and out as organizers from Milwaukee to Oaxaca spoke, supporting organizations sold t-shirts and zines to fund strikers’ commissary, volunteers at a letter-writing station matched attendees with incarcerated pen pals, and musicians performed. The strike, set to begin August 21 and end September 9, was called for by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, an incarcerated group of prisoner rights advocates. After a riot at Lee Correctional Facility in South Carolina left seven inmates dead in April of this year, the group decided that they could no longer wait for the ideal conditions for a strike, as these kinds of tragedies would keep happening unless prisoners worked together. In an August 11 statement, the group wrote, “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. We know that our conditions are causing physical harm and deaths that could be …

Retelling Lives on the South Side through Film: South Side Home Movie Project

As a Hyde Parker, I hear about the South Side Home Movie Projects (SSHMP) frequently. I’m a hop, skip, and jump away from their front doors; I’m a short bike ride away from where their current exhibition is located. But I’m always surprised to hear that other people, in other parts of our city, are unaware of their presence, and their promising initiative to archive, collect, restore, and preserve the South side’s history. The SSHMP’s mission is to focus on the people who live here, who have lived here, and who will live here. Their process of researching and exhibiting home movies from the South side of Chicago is reinstating an untold legacy and offering access to views of life on the best side. What follows is a Q + A interview with Candace Ming, the Project Manager and Archivist at the SSHMP. S. Nicole Lane: When did you get into archiving? How did you end up at the the Southside Home Movie Project? Candace Ming: After graduating from American University with a degree in film production I became interested …

Review: Out of Easy Reach

In December 2017, Tempestt Hazel, a founding editor of Sixty Inches From Center, wrote an essay titled “A Case, Cosign, and Roll Call for Women of Color in the Arts.” Rooted in weariness but ending with practical strategies for the inclusion of Women of Color (WoC) in the arts, the article uses the appointment of Julie Rodrigues Widholm as Director and Chief Curator at the DePaul Art Museum as an example of “stealthily building women into the fabric without writing it on the wall, and as if it was the mission all along.” It then goes on to call out the then-upcoming exhibition Out of Easy Reach curated by Allison M. Glenn, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, as another example that promotes this particular method of inclusivity. Glenn’s exhibition combines the forces of arts practitioners and administrators (including Rodrigues Widholm) working primarily across the city of Chicago to present 24 female-identifying Black and Latinx artists who use abstraction “as a tool to explore histories both personal and universal, with a focus in mapping, …

Dissenting through Craft with Aram Han Sifuentes

Born out of frustration at the country’s current political state and feeling unsafe to protest, fiber and social practice artist Aram Han Sifuentes began making fabric protest banners the day after the 2016 Presidential election. During her residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, she presented the Protest Banner Lending Library where the public could make, donate and check-out protest banners at no charge. The ongoing library invites people to support movements of dissent through making something with care: dynamic banners on novelty fabric that proudly wear slogans such as “Multi Culti Cuties Unite,” “Too Cute To Be Binary,” and “The Future is Female and Brown.” Hundreds of banners later, it is still a practical resource for organizers and activists who need the assistance and encouragement. Since then, the library has been presented and activated at Alphawood Gallery in Chicago and is currently at the Pulitzer Foundation in St. Louis, where Sifuentes is an artist in residence this summer. The Protest Banner Lending Library was an act of catharsis and solidarity for the artist, bringing people together …

Performing Revolutionary: Art, Action, Activism by Nicole Garneau

Artist and activist Nicole Garneau’s new book Performing Revolutionary: Art, Action, Activism takes you on an intimate journey through her project UPRISING, a series of performances that took place once a month for five years. Defining her UPRISINGs as “public demonstration of revolutionary practices,” these performances, protests, celebrations envelop around efforts of connection, community, and care in a way that is reflected in the writings in this book (Garneau, 2). The artist lovingly holds your hand while she walks you through how this project began, and then onwards into each of the 60 performances taking place in eight states and other international locations, beginning in 2008. Each of the sixty performances explored within this book is two-fold: one part being ‘IN ACTION’ which describes the performance and event; the other being ‘Revolutionary Practice,’ which offers a prompt, an exercise the reader can do themselves, putting the action into practice. Garneau describes this book as, “The result of many years of exploration into how performance can be used to create public demonstrations of the possibilities for a more loving, …

This is a photograph of three copies of the book “Brea,” against a light background. Two lie flat in the left side of the frame, front cover and spine visible, and the third is upright, with only the front cover showing. The front cover image is an ink illustration of a young boy in close-up, straight-on, showing his face, chest, and parts of his arms. He wears a long-sleeved shirt and his hands are flipped upside-down over his eyes to form goggles, of sorts, with each thumb and forefinger. Courtesy of the artist.

Beyond the Page: Carlos Matallana

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. In March, I was honored to interview artist and educator Carlos Matallana about the development of his ongoing Manual of Violence project, the process of creating its fictional comic installment “Brea,” and how games, childhood, dreams, and more shape his work. Follow @tropipunk on Instagram and check out his presentation about “Brea” at the Hyde Park Art Center on Saturday, May 26, 2-4pm. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and includes some spoilers about the book “Brea.” Marya Spont-Lemus: I guess I’d love to start by just hearing how long you’ve been making work in Chicago and what brought you here. Carlos Matallana: Well, I ended up in Chicago because I have old friends here in the city. But initially I moved from Bogotá to New York. I spent a couple of months, not even four months, in New York. I spent all my savings, and I tried …

Envisioning an Abolitionist Future

What would the world be like if we eliminated prisons, surveillance, and policing? What types of alternative methods can we seek to pursue justice? What systems can we set in place to encourage people to come clean about their wrongdoings? These questions are at the center of the prison industrial complex (PIC) abolition movement, which aims to dismantle violent systems founded on oppression and inequality, including imprisonment, surveillance, and policing. These questions are also ever-relevant in Chicago, a city with a long history of racist police violence. Do Not Resist? 100 Years of Chicago Police Violence, a recent community-based, artist-led multi-site exhibition that took place across Chicago at the Hairpin Arts Center, Roman Susan Gallery, Uri-Eichen Gallery, and Art In These Times, presented artworks that dealt with Chicago’s history of police violence. The artworks focused on specific victims and incidents of police violence, shifting the dialogue to question the PIC more universally. The final event of the exhibition-related programming, “The Aesthetics of Abolition in the 21st Century,” brought together Mariame Kaba and Sarah Ross to discuss the …

Walking Through Change with Deep Time Chicago

It’s an unseasonably warm December morning and I’m driving cautiously through a Chicago warehouse district, south on Ashland Avenue past an overpass of the Stevenson expressway. The slice of the interstate makes this patch of the city feel like a peninsula, jutting timidly into a convergence of two stretches of the Chicago River. My directions lead me down a small road innocuously named Marketplace Access, past the slick corporate bulk of the QTS Data Center campus, and I’ve arrived. I join a group of about forty light-jacketed companions at Canal Origins Park for a walk through the city’s history of timber extraction with Deep Time Chicago, a collective of ecology-minded artists who want to retrain our awareness to our surroundings, and the artists Sara Black and Raewyn Martyn, whose joint installation Edward Hines National Forest is on view at the Hyde Park Art Center. The park commemorates the point where the Illinois & Michigan Canal once connected the Great Lakes with the Mississippi River drainage basin. It’s an impressive sounding spot, but if I’ve ever …

Movement Matters: J’Sun Howard

Movement Matters investigates work at the intersection of dance, performance, politics, policy and issues related to the body as the locus of these and related socio-cultural dialogues on race, gender, ability and more. For this installment, we sit down with movement artist, curator, poet and Queer Blq Futur narratologist J’Sun Howard to discuss the influences of geography, the role of joy in combating disillusionment and the importance of placekeeping and other practices in the life and work of Chicago’s black and brown artists.   Michael Workman: You don’t hail originally from Chicago, correct? J’Sun Howard: No, I’m originally from Chattanooga, TN. I came here in 2001 to go to school at Columbia College. Here, I started out on the West Side. Then to Lakeview, which was fun, crazy, and full of self-discovery. Uptown was chill and where I began to feel more grounded. I went back to Lakeview after that, and by twenty-three I was done with the bar/club scene. South West Side in the ‘hood, around the Homan Square area was next, I would …

Movement Matters: Nic Kay

Movement Matters investigates work at the intersection of dance, performance, politics, policy, and issues related to the body as the locus of these and related socio-cultural dialogues on race, gender, ability, and more. For this installment, we sit down with movement artist and thinker Nic Kay to discuss growing up in the Bronx, depression, the intellectual forbears who inform their work’s foundations, and the active, moral urgency of fundamentally infusing the black body into our notions of performativity. Please note that Kay will reprise their performance of Lil BLK at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse from March 16th to 18th as a part of the fourth annual OnEdge program by The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE). Michael Workman: How did you make your way to Chicago? You’re originally from… Nic Kay: I was born in The Bronx. Though I grew up in between The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, which was REAL. Not easy. Not romantic. Just simply very R A W. New York City is unforgiving, especially unforgiving if you or your parental guardians are working paycheck to …