All posts tagged: activism

The Breathing Thing – An Interview With The Directors and Cast of “Parched”

Free Street’s offices and theater space are on the third floor of the Pulaski Park Center. It’s a labyrinth of a building, with staircases branching off, echoes from a linoleum gymnasium. Enough places to get lost. The office in which I meet director Katrina Dion and assistant director Xandra Starks has high ceilings and figures painted on the walls. Two couches and a coffee table. It’s comfy, unassuming. J: What was the impetus for this project? How did the content for this project get decided upon? Katrina: So every year, we do a ten month process with our youth ensemble. They range between thirteen and nineteen – this year it’s more between fourteen to eighteen. Every year we go to them with a question or an issue facing Chicago youth and they spend the next ten months in critical inquiry around that; doing interviews, doing research and then training, learning theater creation skills and then building that play. A couple years ago, we were trying to really think about the 2019-2020 seasons really deeply because …

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 …

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 …

‘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 …

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 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Archivist and Activist Erin Glasco Envisions Rebuilding the Archive—From the Inside Out

Erin Glasco (her/hers; they/them) is an archivist and organizer based in Chicago. They have worked on archival projects with Free Street Theatre, the Chicago History Museum, and a Studs Turkel podcast project with WFMT Chicago and Eve Ewing. Additionally, they are currently a part of No Cop Academy, an effort led by Black youth in Chicago to demand $95 million for youth and communities, instead of a new facility for Chicago police. They received their Master’s in Library Science from UIC-UC and currently work as a Visiting Instructor  and Special Collections Librarian at UIC. I first met Erin at the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) as a Journalism undergrad at Columbia College Chicago. They were studying the Paul Robeson FBI files while I was studying ethnomusicology and the interconnectedness of Jamaican Dancehall music within Black American Hip Hop culture. I was astounded by how familiar Erin’s presence felt. Immediately, we were joking and laughing as if we were old college friends. Since 2014, our friendship has strengthened and our careers have aligned and intersected …

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, …

Counter-Media: Live with the Hoodoisie

“Ladies and gentleman, gender non-conforming and trans deities, welcome to another episode of the Hoodoisie!” It was a Saturday night, and we sat packed-in on plastic chairs in the Chicago Art Department, a Pilsen gallery. Technical issues with the sound got things off to a late start, but no one seemed to mind as they excitedly chatted with each other, embracing friends and sipping from plastic cups. When Ricardo Gamboa made the introduction, everyone cheered. The Hoodoisie [hoo-dwa-zee, think hood plus bourgeoisie] is a live talk show that merges art, activism, and academia from what it calls  “block-optic and radical perspectives.” Now in its second year, it takes place at a different cultural space in a gentrifying neighborhood in Chicago every two weeks. Each episode begins with a round table discussion of current events, called “Teatime,” followed by a more in-depth breakdown on a specific issue and an interview with a featured guest, interspersed by a musical performance. On February 3rd the featured guest was activist and educator Page May of Assata’s Daughters. A team of videographers …

Collected Histories: “Open 24 Hours” by Edra Soto

Edra Soto has transformed the Commons at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) with her work Open 24 Hours into a beautiful place filled with remnants of histories that gives birth to transcultural discourse and new meaning. Fittingly, Soto’s culturally charged work is the inaugural project for this new “civically engaged space” at the MCA. As I walk in to the Commons to attend Edra Soto’s artist talk, there are installations of intricately designed, custom-made display structures that stand like pillars, shelf after shelf holding up empty bottles of all different shapes and sizes; the translucence of the greens and browns of the bottles providing a striking contrast to the opaque white of the shells that adorn their surfaces. Edra Soto informs the audience that she collected these bottles, and continues to do so, in her neighborhood of East Garfield Park. She picks them up, washes them, removes their labels—she cares about these bottles as objects. She sees something in them. They are not pieces of trash to be discarded and forgotten, they are pieces …

Intimate Justice: Derrick Woods-Morrow

“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 Derrick Woods-Morrow in his studio about childhood romance, the inherent racism in photography, and how power operates in sex.  S. Nicole Lane: So let’s start with where you’re from. You’re from North Carolina, like me. Derrick Woods-Morrow: Yeah! I went home last summer and there was a confederate parade. It was pre-Trump. It was right before the election or something, and it was 8 men with rifles and confederate flags walking up and down the highway shouting and marching. I live on the North East Side, closer to Brown Summit, so closer to the country. It’s almost like I grew up with that. That didn’t scare me. Charlottesville, which is considered mostly progressive is sort of scarier in a way, but that behavior [in NC] was like, “Oh who are these idiots, they’re probably the cousins of someone I went …