All posts filed under: Interviews

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

If You Want to Watch, You Can Watch: A Conversation with Multimedia Artist Heather Raquel Phillips

In Heather Raquel Phillips’ videos we are so very close. But we rarely get the full picture. Instead, we sense our way. We feel what we are meant to know, despite, or because of, the ambiguity. It is familiar, yet private. We cannot, would not, transpose ourselves onto or into another’s moment. But we watch, transfixed, sometimes trapped up close, sometimes lingering, our desires holding us rapt. Eyes closed, a grimace, then a small smile, as someone takes an electric clipper to another’s head and shaves it clean. Eyes closed, relaxed, stroking hair to the lull of R&B. The gentle touch of a manicured hand against the neck, the other confidently guiding the razor along the scalp. They bend forward as the razor tickles the nape, moving with the grain of their body in response to another’s structured guidance. Tongues ecstatically licking lips, devouring in anticipatory delight. Bodies gleeful with expectation, awaiting their punishment. Phillips, a mixed race artist living and working in Philadelphia, explores the intersections of race, class, gender & sexuality through the …

The Right to Heal: An Interview with Artist & Activist bria royal

bria royal is a 24-year-old multidisciplinary artist from the West side of Chicago. bria’s work often deals with Black and Indigenous mythologies, ecofeminism and futurist possibilities. In 2017, she released a graphic novel titled Black Girl Mania which fuses science fiction and personal narrative to follow a protagonist navigating mental illness in a post-climate change world’s last habitable land mass. Most recently, she illustrated Missing Daddy, a children’s book written by one of Chicago’s most prominent organizers and prison abolitionists, Mariame Kaba. Kaba has had a hand in developing many of Chicago’s radical organizing projects, including Project NIA, Chicago Freedom School, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, Chicago Alliance to Free Marissa Alexander, and We Charge Genocide. At Northwestern University, where she studied Communications, Film, and Psychology, bria helped form Unshackle NU, a political action group that pressured the school to divest from private prison corporations and companies that profit from the prison-industrial complex. As part of Unshackle NU, bria created an animated short called Prison-Industrial Complex 101. There she met Kaba, …

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 …

Mitch Buangsuwon and Modern Americana

Mitch Buangsuwon (he/him) is a photographer, director, and filmmaker based in Chicago and Los Angeles. His work focuses on familial connections and issues. His current film project explores the ways that dementia and lack of control affect a family and his current photography project documents people’s lives across America and delves into their sense of safety. Mitch’s work can be found at mitchb.us. Cecilia Kearney: Let’s start with your background, tell me a little bit about yourself. Mitch Buangsuwon: My name is Aaron Mitchell Buangsuwon. I was born and raised in Los Angles, California. I have only recently been living in Chicago since I moved here for school, so I am very much still heavily tied to my California identity. My dad immigrated from Bangkok, Thailand to go to college where he met my mom—they’re divorced now. I was in a family that was really into the outdoors and traveling, so I was lucky to be able to go all over the U.S. and the world. As a kid, I went to Switzerland a lot as well …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 3: Leah Gipson

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of re-orienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted just as much in ethics as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. And yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: What and who is art’s “community,” and what do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores …

Encircling Community with Circles & Ciphers: An Interview with Steve Serikaku

Within Circles & Ciphers‘ programming, Community Peace Circle is a long established institution in both the neighborhood of Rogers Park and the city of Chicago. This space represents my earliest interaction with the organization and provided me with a foundational understanding of circle facilitation. Circles & Ciphers presently offers four types of circles on a weekly or biweekly basis to accommodate a range of different social and gender identities: Young Men’s, Women of Color, Freestyle, and Community. Community Peace Circle offers a flexible format which caters to the broadest range of identities and ages allowing these groups to interact and share space with one another. In order to further understand the types of people who give shape and meaning to the Community Peace Circle, I wanted to interview attendees to see what drew them into the space and what keeps them returning. This interview was conducted with Steve Serikaku, a local resident of Edgewater who is also involved with several social justice efforts that align with his Unitarian Universalist faith doctrine. Mike Strode: How are you …

Darien R. Wendell, Forging Black Queer Sanctuaries by Any Means

Darien R. Wendell (they/them, ey/em, d) is a transdisciplinary artist, curator, educator, and organizer who uses art as a vehicle to interrogate and excavate Black queer histories, experiences, and moments. They harness their inquiry in pursuit of creating art, spaces and worlds for Black trans and gender non-conforming folks who seek refuge, community and connection. Their work expands over different media and expressions, including performance, sculpture, illustration, and zines. They are also part of several Chicago-based artists and organizing collectives–one of which is A Tribe Called Cunt, a “squad” co-created with Bonita Africana (Shanna Collins) that highlights the many contributions of Black trans and gender non-conforming rappers and cultural producers to hip-hop culture.    It was an art teacher in high school who encouraged Darien to think critically about art as a tool and not just aesthetics. They had a culture jamming assignment that required them to look at an advertisement, research the company that produced it to understand the company’s practices, and then create a counterculture piece of art about it. The main point of …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 2: Regin Igloria and North Branch Projects

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that …

‘The Artist as a Catalyst of Social Change?’ Part 1: Nicole Marroquin

As many contemporary artists, arts organizations, and other cultural laborers continue a decades-long trajectory of reorienting their practices more deliberately towards and within the social world, forms and approaches have morphed through a collective re-imagining of the production, dissemination, and sociopolitical potential of art. These modes have sought to broaden access and participation in the arts, transform relationships between people, forge practices rooted in ethics as much as in aesthetics, and other similar gestures toward aligning art with notions of social justice and reform. Yet amidst this grappling, a number of unresolved riddles remain regarding art’s place in daily life: who is art’s “community,” and what exactly do we mean by “community”? What is art’s relationship to democracy? Can increased access to the arts also advance civic participation more broadly? What is the role of the artist in society? Can art and artists be catalysts for social change — and should they? Such issues and questions reverberate through the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum’s current exhibition Participatory Arts: Crafting Social Change, which explores the influence that Addams …

Chicago Archives + Artist Project: Artist Profile on H. Melt

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 will profile 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.  Join us on December 1, 2018 from 6-9 pm at the Leather Archives & Museum for Artists + Archives: Pilots, which will exhibit the commissioned projects by each artist alongside the archive materials that inspired them, launching CA+AP’s first …

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 …

Interview with Musician Bailey Minzenberger

Bailey Minzenberger is a Chicago singer songwriter whose music focuses on themes of love, loss, and intense emotion. Their debut EP, “Queen Anne’s Lace,” combines acoustic guitar with hauntingly beautiful lyrics to evoke an intimate listening experience, currently available on Bandcamp. Writer Cecilia Kearney had the chance to talk to Bailey and discuss their relationship with music and identity. Cecilia Kearney: Lets start with some background; tell me a little bit about yourself. Bailey Minzenberger: I was born and raised in Evanston and Rogers Park. I haven’t really left the area for an extended period of time, which I would like to change—I am changing, which is exciting. I feel really grateful to have grown up there; Evanston is a really cool place. I’m currently writing my own music. I would like to [have a] full band, but since it’s just me right now, it’s usually just acoustic guitar and vocals. Usually when I write music, I can hear the entire band in my head as I’m writing, so it’s really cool when I can get a …

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 …

Featured image: Udita Upadhyaya at the book release for “nevernotmusic,” at TriTriangle. The artist leans over a table, looking down as she writes in gold pen inside a copy of her book. Next to her is another copy, open to its centerfold, where gold thread is visible. The artist wears a light-colored, textured sweater. Photo by Caleb Neubauer.

Beyond the Page: Udita Upadhyaya’s “nevernotmusic” (the book)

“Beyond the Page” digs into the process and practice of writers and artists who work at the intersection of literary arts and other fields. This interview is the third of three with interdisciplinary artist Udita Upadhyaya about “nevernotmusic” — a solo exhibition of scores activated by curated, collaborative performances — and her process of developing these scores into a book (the first and second interviews are online). After the book’s release in September, I met with Udita to reflect on the book, the process of creating it (and personalizing each copy), and the connection between music and grief in her work. Get a copy of the limited edition book by contacting Udita. Find @uditau on Twitter and Instagram. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.   Marya Spont-Lemus: How are you feeling about Saturday’s book release event? Udita Upadhyaya: I’m still processing, but I am feeling good. It was great to see the book in its final form. The book is really beautiful! I have not spent enough time with it yet, but …

Installation View: Up is Down at the Block Museum

This fall, Art Design Chicago is illuminating the legacy of art and design that’s embedded in Chicago’s history and culture through a full calendar of exhibitions, events, and other programs across the city. As editorial partners in this effort, we’re working with them to to elevate the stories of Chicago’s lesser-known artists, designers, and creators, past and present, through comics, essays, interviews, podcasts, and videos. For the videos we’ve teamed up with On The Real Film to present short profiles that highlight the exhibitions, projects, and people who are showcasing these legacies in various ways. The third video in this series, “Installation View: Up is Down” takes a behind-the-scenes look at the installation process for The Block Museum’s exhibition Up is Down: Mid-century Experiments in Advertising and Film at the Goldsholl Studio. Co-curators Amy Beste and Corinne Granof discuss the legacy and impact of the Goldsholl Studio on design and advertising, and provide insight into the curating process for a multimedia show that includes a wide variety of mediums and formats. The Block Museum’s Dan Silverstein elaborates …

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 …

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Snapshot: Tianna Bracey

Snapshot is a Sixty column that takes a quick look at art history as it happens in Chicago. We send artists and organizers a list of short and sweet questions to tell us about what they are doing right at this moment. For the newest installment, we sent our questions to painter, Tianna Bracey, whose work can be seen at the Zhou B Art Center as part of the exhibition, Black Love Matters, through November 9th. Sixty Inches From Center: How would you describe your work? Tianna Bracey: My work explores the subtleties of the painterly and figurative form. It is intended as recognizable snapshots of the female experience, ranging from the pleasurable to the mundane. I employ body language, gesture, movement and expression as narrative tools. Through every piece I aim to celebrate the power and vulnerability of women through portraiture. SIFC: What do you find most challenging about working as an artist? TB: Knowing the difference between when to let go and when to push through is by far my biggest challenge. I have no problem painting over …

Chicago Archives + Artists Project: Artist Profile on Ivan LOZANO

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 will profile 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 this segment, I sit down with Ivan LOZANO in his studio to discuss his experience working with Media Burn Archive, the work he has been creating influenced by …

Body Passages: Lani T. Montreal and Maxine Patronik on Developing “Blood Memory”

This is the third article in an ongoing series about Body Passages, a partnership between Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and The Chicago Poetry Center (the first and second are online). This series gives brief looks into a 10-month, interdisciplinary creative process between Body Passages poets and dancers, documenting and reflecting on aspects of that process as it happens. In September, I spoke with writer Lani T. Montreal and dancer/choreographer Maxine Patronik about their collaborative process; their resulting piece, “Blood Memory,” about trauma and bodily memory; and their thoughts about artists’ responsibility when presenting work with sensitive themes. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Lani and Maxine’s final creation – along with those by other Body Passages groups – were performed at a culminating event at the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble Auditorium on October 12 and 13. Marya Spont-Lemus: It was so cool to get to observe you today at work on “Blood Memory,” your piece-in-progress for Body Passages. So thank you! Before we get into discussing that collaborative piece and your process, I’d love …

Image: Bri Beck leans into the frame from the right side, looking down at a tan mixed media garment piece on a white pedestal. Other works can be seen in the background. Photo by Ryan Edmund.

Locating Your Practice in ‘Chicago Disability Activism, Arts, and Design,’ with Bri Beck

“I could have never expected this, it’s so exciting. It [makes me] feel like my story has been told for a very long time, and I don’t always have to be the one telling my story,” asserts Bri Beck while discussing the work in Chicago Disability Activism, Arts, and Design: 1970s to Today at Gallery 400. The exhibition is a multi-generational sampling of the disability-centered artwork that has been coming out of Chicago over the last fifty-plus years. Artist and art therapy graduate student Bri Beck and I visit the exhibition to discuss her experience as a part of this rich history. As we make our way through the gallery, Beck points out artists she’s worked with, portraits of people she recognizes, and professors she’s been mentored by. “I love being a part of the Chicago disability community,” says Beck. A close-knit and interconnected community, she explains, “there aren’t very many of us!” The seemingly small circle of artists and activists doing disability work in Chicago is precisely what has made the city an epicenter for advocacy and …

Featured image: Ryan Keesling leans over the shoulder of Walter, a Free Write Sound and Vision technician, as they both look at audio mixer that sits on a table in front of them. They are outside, under a blue tent, where Sound and Vision is mixing sound for the FEAST festival that took place September 8. Photo by Chelsea Ross

Just Narratives: A Conversation with Ryan Keesling of Free Write Arts and Literacy

“The ‘envisioning justice’ conversation is like – I don’t know, I think people try too hard to think about what it will look like.” Ryan Keesling had just pulled out his phone and was pointing at a photo on Free Write Art and Literacy’s Instagram page as he spoke. It was a flyer for YAS! Fest, the youth art showcase that took place in Millennium Park in September. On the flyer was an image of two DJs who had performed at the festival, Walter and Cortez, a.k.a. DJ 1Solo and DJ Tez. Keesling continued, “That’s not to say that people shouldn’t imagine. But, for me, I have to – I can imagine it, but also when I imagine it I don’t necessarily feel it. But when I see their faces and when I work with our students, both inside and outside, and I see them growing and I see them becoming aware of their abilities, and I see them being able to take control of their lives and I see them being happy and getting …