All posts filed under: Artists

Intimate Justice: Vesna Jovanovic

“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 Vesna Jovanovic via email about medical illustrations and the act of drawing.  S. Nicole Lane: I think I saw your work a few years ago actually (I think at the Museum of Surgical Science?), and recently stumbled upon it again thanks to the internet. I’ve been interested in your attention to bodily subjects. Can you discuss how your work relates to sex and anatomy and why those topics interest you? Vesna Jovanovic: My focus on bodily subjects developed slowly over time. Many years ago, at SAIC, I took an experimental drawing class with Barbara Rossi. She asked us to create something along the lines of a Rorschach test and then draw directly on top of the inkblot. I was working a day job in an R&D laboratory at the time, so my mind was saturated with lab equipment and glassware. …

How La Villita Envisions Justice: A Reporter’s Reflections

Since I began covering the Envisioning Justice initiative in Little Village in Spring 2018, something that Open Center for the Arts Founder and Executive Director J. Omar Magana told me has stayed with me. He said that he sees the Chicago neighborhood – where, in 2004, he opened his community art center – as a world-class village. It took me almost a year of meeting and speaking with artists and activists who live and work in La Villita, to understand what he meant. As part of the cohort of journalists documenting the ways Chicagoans have harnessed art to address criminal justice issues in their communities, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege to learn from the people at the intersections of this work. Little Villagers specifically represent a unique approach to community organizing – one that embraces interracial solidarity, and cross-issue advocacy. Holding power brokers accountable feels particularly salient in Little Village. The creeping threat of gentrification is still somewhat distant here, unlike the neighboring area of Pilsen, where brand new luxury apartments share blocks with single …

“Natural Wonder” at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria

This review is part of our Sixty Regional project which partners with artists, writers, and artist-run spaces to highlight art happening throughout the Midwest and Illinois. Written by Jessica Bingham, artist, curator, and co-founder of Project 1612, this review examines “Natural Wonder”, a two-person exhibition by Bethany Carlson Coffin and Stephanie Sailer at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, Illinois. Distance, whether out of necessity or inability to be close, is the common thread within the works in the exhibition Natural Wonder currently at the Contemporary Art Center in Peoria, IL. As the elevator doors opened to reveal the exhibition, I felt instantly calm, yet curious. Curious about the strange forms living on the pristine white pedestals and lost within the intricate paintings and drawings that graced the walls of the gallery. The pieces spark a sense of wonder and yearning for answers about experiences we cannot possibly understand or completely fathom; they compliment each other—they are quiet, contemplative, and coexisting. The exhibition pairs together the delicate drawings and monochromatic paintings of Bethany Carlson Coffin and the supple mixed media sculptures of …

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 …

Featured image: Fawzia Mirza. In this medium-close-up shot, Fawzia looks directly and confidently at the camera, smiling with pursed lips and pointing at the viewer with both hands. Fawzia wears a long-sleeved denim shirt with a blue-on-blue, camouflage-like print and the top few snaps unsnapped. The cuffs of her shirt-sleeves are folded back, and she wears several bracelets and rings made of silver or wood. Photo by Bradley Murray, cropped to fit. Courtesy of the artist.

Beyond the Page: Fawzia Mirza

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. For this installment, I interviewed Fawzia Mirza — actor, writer, producer, and “artivist” — about the relationship between her writing and performance, her creations’ many forms and media platforms, the role of comedy and collaboration in her work, and how she hopes her work impacts others. Our conversation took place remotely, with Fawzia responding via audio recording to a set of emailed questions. Find Fawzia on Twitter and Instagram @thefawz. “The Red Line” premieres on Sunday, April 28, on CBS. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.   Marya Spont-Lemus: I first became aware of your work several years ago, when you emceed TEDx Windy City, at which two of my students were speaking. I thought you were such a charming, energetic, bold, incisive yet kind and generous host, and it was so lovely to officially meet you a few years ago and to discover that you’re just as smart …

You Can Fly Higher: An Interview with Chicago-based Street Artist Sentrock

Sentrock is the moniker of Chicago-based street artist Joseph Perez, who moved to the city from Phoenix, Arizona in 2012. Since then, Chicagoans have likely seen his signature murals of brown children in red bird masks adorning the walls of buildings all over the North, West, and South Sides. With public art now on display in multiple U.S. cities, Sentrock has still shown the most love for Chicago. His mural across the street from YolloCalli Arts Reach in Little Village in particular has become an important and inspiring fixture that the community members and the young artists who work at YolloCalli have come to admire. Sentrock may not create art to be inherently political, but that doesn’t mean his murals don’t deliver messages. Most of his public pieces contain slogans like “You Can Fly Higher,” “Stay Woke,” and “We Learned To Fly Without Wings” alongside the images of masked young people with black hair and brown skin. In Little Village, a largely Latinx immigrant neighborhood, residents get to see these hopeful messages paired with physical …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Chicago Archives + Artists Project: Artist Profile on Aay Preston-Myint

The Chicago Archives + Artists Project (CA+AP) is an initiative that highlights Chicago archives and special collections that give space to voices on the margins of history. Led by Chicago-based writers and artists, the project explores archives across the city via online features, a series of public programs and new commissioned artwork by Chicago artists. For 2018, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has funded a series of pilot projects pairing three artists with three archives around the city: Media Burn + Ivan LOZANO, the Leather Archives & Museum + Aay Preston-Myint, and the Newberry Library’s Chicago Protest Collection + H. Melt. This series of articles profiles these featured archives and artists over the course of their collaboration, exploring the vital role of the archive in preserving and interpreting the stories of our city as well as the ways in which they can be a resource for creatives in the community.  In the Leather Archives exhibition, Aay Preston-Myint exhibited their work Dirt/Work, which illustrates the archival process of leather culture. The artist writes, “Archives are one of many …

Whatever You Think I Am, I’m Not – Out of Easy Reach Review

“Art can make a difference because it pulls people up short. [Art] says, don’t accept things for their face value; you don’t have to go along with any of this; you can think for yourself” – Jeanette Winterson1 Ayanah Moor’s Good News makes me smile. It was the first thing I saw walking into the “Out of Easy Reach” exhibit at the DePaul Art Museum this summer. A grid of eight-by-three screen printed sheets of paper showing cream colored text set against a black background. The first reads, “Chicago: Chicago has a lot of professional Black women. But a lot of the women just don’t have their heads together. They try to be professional, but they forget that it takes a well-rounded life to be happy. – Danielle Thomas.” 23 more sheets list women’s candid remarks on the dating scene for women loving women in different cities across the U.S. Instantly there is a sense of a queer satire — taking the viewer’s knowledge (physical, visual, and sensual) of relationships and sex and gender, and transforming them. The …

Inside the Just Art Program at Cook County Jail

Across the U.S., 2.3 million people are being held in correctional facilities. Around 536,000 of them are being detained pretrial—more than most countries have in their jails and prisons combined. And as much as our prison population swells with people serving life sentences, shorter-term pretrial detention, and the architectures and logics that come with it, are distinctly American. Cook County Jail’s brutalist facility looms over 96 acres of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. It is the largest single-site jail in the country. In 1985, the average daily population was about 5,000. By 2012, that number had nearly doubled. An estimated 90 percent of those incarcerated at Cook County Jail have not been convicted of a crime but are being held in pretrial detention, often because they can’t afford to pay the bond set during their pretrial hearing. Late last year, after Chief Judge Timothy Evans ordered court judges to set bail only in amounts defendants could afford, the average bond amount in Cook County fell by over 80 percent, from nearly $134,000 in 2016 to $22,000 …

Community Art for Art’s Sake: A Conversation with Open Center for the Arts in Little Village

At Open Center for the Arts in Little Village, the focus is not on enacting social justice buzzwords like “youth diversion,” “community intervention,” or “artivism.” Instead, Open Center staff are working hard to build capacity for positive change in their neighborhood by modeling progressive values for the young people they mentor and serve. Earlier this year, I spoke with four of Open Center’s instructors and art practitioners and one student intern to learn about how each of them is envisioning justice in Little Village as well as how they view their own roles as artists within the ecosystem of direct service youth development and community organizing. Folks at the table included Executive Director J. Omar Magana, Envisioning Justice Hub Director Gabriela Juarez, Theater Instructor Luis Crespo, Film & Video Instructor Essau Menendez, and Theater Assistant & Student Jose Blanco This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Anjali Misra: Luis – as Theater Director, what do you oversee? Luis Crespo: I oversee the youth program and that’s working with the young people to use …

Intimate Justice: Oscar Chavez

 “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 Oscar Chavez in Pilsen about internet trends, the body as a commodity, and tube tops.  This interview was edited for length and clarity.  S. Nicole Lane: Where are you originally from and how did you get to Chicago? Oscar Chavez: Born and raised in Chicago actually. I am from the South Side. So, I grew up in the South Side. I definitely don’t wanna stay in Chicago. But I think being a young artist in Chicago is amazing and there are so many benefits that you can work with. SNL : How has Pilsen community contributed to your practice? OC: I mean, I just moved here so I am still exploring. I moved a block from Textile Discount Outlet which has really been turning me up. I am there every morning and have been sewing so much. So that’s been a huge effect …