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The Flying Trapeze: The Drifter’s Collective

Circus has been making a comeback across the country for the past few decades. Chicago has seen the rise of circus schools, companies, and shows all across the city. Performers train and present their work to audiences while amateurs can learn new circus skills for health and self-expression. Any given month, you can see at least two homegrown shows, not including shows by smaller companies and the occasional visiting circus. The Flying Trapeze is a column that will bring you the best and brightest of Chicago’s vibrant circus scene. Chantal Bustamante started Drifter’s Collective, a small circus company, in 2018 because she wanted to do more acrobatics as well as create more opportunities to perform. Since 2018, Bustamante says that the Drifter’s Collective has “slowly evolved into a multi-cultural circus company.”  For Bustamante, diversity is key. “We have different ethnicities, orientations… men, women, and people who do not identify working side by side together,” she says. Starting with four performers, the group has grown to seven and one apprentice with two shows—Stone Soup and in the …

Image: Illustration of a person with colors of green, purple, and magenta surrounding them. There are various patterns in the background.

3 Unemergency Poems

Not that we’re not in an emergency, but rather, the need to break out of the fast cycle of news that feels designed to agitate and then numb me into a state of helplessness. “Crisis time” invokes a logic of panic in the here and now. How will the headlines help me take care of my roommate who is, at the time of writing, using a borrowed inhaler, recovering from what the doctor diagnosed over the phone as COVID-19 and/or pneumonia? You can’t make soup with statistics and bylines.  What about the care work, dream work, and reflective thinking that sustains, moves, and propels our bodies inch by inch into the future? I find myself turning to endurance art, affect theory, performance studies, poetry, and maintenance work for a primer in how to slow down in order to keep on keeping on. These are “untimely,” perhaps, but what better time than the disrupted reality of quarantine to seep in the sustaining power of the “untimely”? In a moment of uncertainty, the durability of theory compels …

Midwestern Artists Creating with Repurposed, Sustainable Materials

Sustainability in the art world can mean a number of things, from using conscious art practices to upcycling materials, to ecological art which focuses on restoration. Environmental artists often explore the relationship between humans and nature, between man-made materials and natural environments, and they aim to work in a way that demonstrates harmony between the two.   From the banks of the Mississippi River to the small village of Northport, Michigan, we talked to four Midwestern artists who are creating sustainable, environmentally-engaged art and using reclaimed and repurposed materials. Jenny Murphy  While at Washington University for her BFA, Jenny Murphy became very interested in the negative impacts of American consumerism. She started to consider what art could be like when it’s not confined to an inaccessible gallery, and it was then that she started defining herself as a “community artist.” Murphy is the founder of Perennial, a sustainable art non-profit in St. Louis, that functions as a community workshop and store offering DIY and craft classes—everything from bookbinding to woven wall art —using reclaimed materials. …

A Projection Into ‘Paths Between Two Steps’ by Soo Shin

The lymph nodes in my neck are swollen. Poisonous balloons expanding in my throat. I am guilty of my breath, my touch, how they could infect others. I bike to see my partner at Rosehill Cemetery, where we had planned to meet, and I tell him about the wretched mass I sense inside me, surrounding me. So we decide to stay safe, six feet apart, where we will stay for at least a week. We visit his grandparents’ graves, stones placed upon them. He is saying something to me as I draw in and out, in and out wet salty breaths, six feet away. I have never missed a touch so close to me so deeply—I can’t stand it. I go, six feet, then 20, then miles, until I am separated from the one I love. And I am thinking now, as many of us are, what it means to love and to live from a distance.  I am wondering the same thing as I again click through the virtual version of “Paths Between Two …

Image: Installation view of Gordon Hall’s Chicago exhibit USELESSNESS, courtesy Document Gallery.

Slanting Towards Uselessness

“All art is quite useless.”—Oscar Wilde You can’t really step on a slanted step. The Slant Step’s so-called “step” inclines at a 45 degree angle, too steep for a foothold. It is an object that teases utility, like Meret Oppenheim’s fur-lined tea-cup, or Marcel Duchamp’s inverted urinal. What is it for? Nobody could figure that out, and that’s the point. It is an inside joke: a found object whose elusive purpose made for a compelling and enduring art mystery. It is an invitation, a riddle, a call for response.  As legend goes, William T. Wiley found the Slant Step in a San Francisco thrift shop for fifty cents in the Sixties and bought it as a gift for his student—the artist Bruce Nauman, who went on to cast molds in homage. With time it became an object of fixation for a funk art movement of Bay Area artists and poets, culminating in a group show, The Slant Step Show, at Berkeley Gallery in 1966. When Richard Serra stole the Slant Step from that show and …

Image: A color illustration of a woman with VR glasses looking at a colorful screen. Illustration by Teshika Silva.

April (Virtual) Art Picks

Due to the unprecedented, precarious state we are all in due to COVID-19, this month’s Art Picks reads a bit differently. As the nation practices social-distancing, we can no longer attend the events normally listed here. Exhibitions, performances, lectures–you name it–are being postponed or cancelled. As a result, artists, musicians, and performers are doing what they always do–they become even more resourceful, miraculously organizing virtual events and alternative ways to engage with their work. As the ways in which we experience the arts have recently changed, so must this list of Art Picks. Below, you will find three categories: arts events that have been postponed or cancelled, virtual streaming events, and online resources from regional arts organizations. Art Picks is a monthly event calendar created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar, and cross-promoted through Windy City Times, one of the longest locally-published LGBTQ weeklies with a national reach.  Click here to get our Art Picks and latest articles delivered to your inbox monthly. The featured image was created by one of Sixty’s talented illustrators, …

Featured Image: Amy L. Powell, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Krannert Art Museum stands in front of “Hive,” an large inflatable sculpture installed in the museum’s Kinkaid Pavillion. The sculpture is floor to ceiling and bright pink. The main body of the sculpture resembles a bunch of grapes, or a multi-breasted female body, and to the side there is fuschia colored a braid with a braided gold band around the end of the braid. Powell stands in the center of the image, looking into the camera and smiling. She is wearing a black dress, and her hands are in her pockets. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Building Community with Amy L. Powell

Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign houses quite a large and impressive collection of artwork, spanning centuries of human creativity. The museum’s collection is complimented by temporary exhibitions, ranging in themes (Painting and the Animation of History in Northern India), time periods (contemporary work by Allan deSouza), and topics (Swalihi Arts across the Indian Ocean). It’s an understated and underappreciated resource in East Central Illinois. I recently spoke with Amy L. Powell, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Krannert Art Museum (KAM). Powell has been in her position since the fall of 2014, and she’s mounted exhibitions of the work of Zina Saro-Wiwa, Autumn Knight, Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, and Kennedy Browne. Powell is interested in photography, video, and knowledge production, but a quick look at her resume also reveals thematic interests in post colonialism, feminism, displacement, and disruption. Much of our conversation circled around the idea of connection. Powell seeks to make connections between artists, makers, and thinkers, and views the studio visit and the exhibition as platforms …

Theater Groups Get Creative with Delivering Content During the Quarantine

While entertainment venues across the world have gone dark due to the coronavirus, theaters and artistic groups have been finding ways to raise the spirits of people. The NY Metropolitan Opera, Melbourne Symphony, and many other major venues are streaming concerts and recordings.  Some groups, notably groups here in Chicago, have taken digital content to another level: artists are creating new content to live stream to viewers. We talked to three theatrical groups that have been filling our screens during this crisis: Aloft Circus Arts,  Nasty Brutish and Short, and Mr. and Mrs. Wednesday-Night. Aloft is a Chicago circus school and performance space in a former church in Logan Square. Students, both professionals and amateurs, have the opportunity to take classes on a variety of apparatuses including trapeze, silks, trampoline wall, juggling, acrobatics and much more. With the recent closure of bars and restaurants, Aloft decided to move to streaming circus classes for its students. At set times during the week, students can take live virtual classes with their teachers on topics such as foolery, …

A Scene of Her Own: The Inimitable Vaginal Davis

Her blond hair perfectly flipped, a smile breaking across her warm and open face, Vaginal Davis takes the mic, satin blue nighty shimmying. Amidst a stage of fierce femmes of all shapes and sizes rocking back and forth in slumber party attire, Davis holds the center of our attention. Performing tonight as Graciela Grejalva—lead singer of Cholita!—she sings, she shouts, sweating, spitting rapid-fire lyrics, a pink swatch of fabric clutched in one hand. Her other hand gesticulates wildly, mirrored by the lingerie-clad woman to her left who cajoles in pantomime, pointing at, sometimes flipping off the audience, implicating and drawing them in. Black and brown women, including Alice Bag of Sad Girl and The Bags, play backup to our Blatino (half Black, half Mexican), intersexed, queer drag superstar, churning out a low-fi frenzied garage punk beat. “CHINGA TU, CHINGA TU, CHINGA TU MADRE!” they collectively sing in urgent, joyful unison. Go fuck yourself. Literally, go fuck your mother. Vaginal Davis, who named herself after Black radical Angela Davis with a queer, humorous twist, is not …

Rachel Youn in their studio. They sit in front of untitled works comprised of massagers, artificial plants, and speaker cabinets. Photo by Krista Valdez.

Massagers Meet Mosh Pits: An Interview with Rachel Youn

At first glance, Rachel Youn’s studio looks more like a garage sale than an atelier. Forty artificial plants cavort around the room, sprouting from machines, which, upon closer inspection, divulge their former lives as foot massagers—the kind you see on TV ads that tell you it’s time to go to bed. In this dancehall greenhouse dream, vintage speakers pose as plinths under the auspices of disco lights.  At one end of Youn’s studio jostles Adulators, a kinetic combine of a creamsicle-colored Shiatsu foot massager and two scuffling artificial olive branches. Youn does not conceal the mechanics of their sculptures: the leaves’ movements are logical, clearly stemming from the vibrating foot massager at their base. Nonetheless, the work entrances, as the two branches hypnotically wrestle on a loop; despite endless encounters, a loser is never pinned. Youn harbors the poetics of these olive branches—symbols of peace—to evoke infinite uncertainty, in which the viewer ultimately finds solace. In other works, like the motion-activated Devotee—a composite chi swing and artificial fan palm that scrubs the floor in subtle, …

Yasaman Moussavi at the Beverly Art Center

Space is a longtime preoccupation with the Iranian artist Yasaman Moussavi, whose recent show, Intervals was on display at the Beverly Art Center from Jan 3 to Feb 2, 2020. In Moussavi’s Intervals, space is mediated through two parallel operations of marking and organizing. By marking I mean a primeval enactment of space through play and its subsequent punctuation through psychic and cultural investment. Organizing, on the other hand, is less about compartmentalization than about space as the locus of social cooperation. Intervals consists of three parts: suspended large handmade papers installed along a zig-zag path, a bird’s eye view upon an urban landscape created by molded papers, and a collection of tiny cubicle paper modules carefully selected and framed in a fashion reminiscent of butterfly specimens. Hanged by thin transparent wires, the papers with the bulky, rough surfaces manifest a thrust, a longing for defying gravity. However, such an urge for the heavens does not manifest a perfect balance but a fragile union of materiality and spirituality. Likewise, the framed paper modules—despite all their …

In Case of Emergency: Artist Resources For You, For Us

All of us at Sixty can’t help but to think about the strain that is being put on our arts community in Chicago and across the Midwest. Exhibitions, performances, and fundraisers are being canceled or postponed indefinitely, contract opportunities are halting, schools and cultural institutions are being shut down, side-gigs at and income from bars, restaurants, and retail stores are dwindling. We are also seeing incredible examples of community organizing in and beyond the arts that are providing quick support locally, regionally, and nationally. And if you’re like us, you’re looking for ways to support those efforts or even start your own initiatives to help others who are in need. Knowledge is power, so in an effort to share information, we’ve compiled a growing list of suggestions, resources, and things you can do, models you can adapt, and small actions you can take now to do your part. And though we are sharing these resources with the best of intentions, we encourage you to also do your own research into the organizations, initiatives, and efforts …

Image: An illustration of three women. The composition is dissected into three planes.

March Art Picks

Art Picks is a monthly event calendar created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar, and cross-promoted through Windy City Times, one of the longest locally-published LGBTQ weeklies with a national reach. Click here to get our Art Picks and latest articles delivered to your inbox monthly. The featured image was created by one of Sixty’s incredibly talented illustrators, Kiki Dupont, who is an interdisciplinary artist based in Chicago. Find more of Kiki’s work on Instagram @kikidupontart or on her website. This is a growing list, so check back often for new additions. Feb 29- Mar 1, 2020Women According to MenGene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: 164 N State St $6-12 Sun, Mar 1, 3-4pmLázaro Lima: Being BrownThe Seminary Co-op Bookstores: 5751 S Woodlawn AveFree Sun, Mar 1, 4-7pmPlaying in the Dark: Selected Work by Bill Talsma (1971-2019)PO Box Collective: 6900 N Glenwood AveFree Mon, Mar 2, 6-7:30pmMartha Wilson and the Franklin FurnaceDepartment of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago: 915 E 60th StFree Mon, Mar 2, 7-9pmIsaiah Collier and …

Hardware & Soft Bodies: What I’m Learning From Agnes Denes

I have been programming computers as part of my art practice for a number of years. This pursuit feels increasingly queer the longer I do it: at one time I felt I was adding my queerness to a straight-set of tools, but these days it’s more like pulling forth something that was already there. Lately, I have enjoyed imagining that tech has always been a queer project. The irony here is that most technologists are straight cismen, so they pursue this queer project unwittingly. Tech practitioners try to reproduce themselves as computers: gender-flexible bodies with many modes of union (pins, ports, invisible blue teeth). They succeed and fail to recreate themselves in their own repressed queer image. All electronics achieve a kind of fleshliness via scatology, burning fossil fuel and producing noxious waste, which is cleverly closeted away in power plants. At the same time, most computers remain too smooth and hard to feel alive. Practitioners remain oblivious that their faltering aim is the sexless production of excreting bodies—instead, they think they are working toward …

Featured image: Sahar Mustafah sits outdoors, smiling and looking off-camera. She wears a black winter coat, light grey scarf, and large hoop earrings. A bush with tan leaves fills most of the space behind her, with greenery and parts of a building behind that. Photo by Mark Blanchard.

Beyond the Page: Sahar Mustafah

“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 fiction writer and high school English teacher Sahar Mustafah about her debut novel, “The Beauty of Your Face.” We spoke in January about her process of drafting, crafting, and publishing the book; how her writing and teaching inform each other; and key experiences — and women — that have shaped her as an author. “The Beauty of Your Face” (W.W. Norton, 2020) is available for pre-order. Check out the book launch event and reading at the American Writers Museum on April 7. Find Mustafah on Twitter @saharmustafah. This interview has been edited for length and clarity, and to limit plot-related spoilers to the contents of the prologue and the book jacket. Marya Spont-Lemus: I’ve admired your work since we met through StoryStudio’s “Novel in a Year” program in 2015. I loved your short story collection, Code of the West (Willow Books, 2017), and was completely absorbed …

No Nation

La primera vez que visité {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} fue en 2016, apenas un año después de mi llegada a Chicago. Uno de los profesores en el departamento de performance de la facultad iba a presentar un trabajo en {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} e invitó a  la clase a conocer el espacio y el talento de artistas locales emergentes. Recuerdo el primer impacto; una mezcla de fascinación, asombro, calidez y confort, un sentido absoluto de pertenencia e identificación con el arte, la comunidad y la filosofía del espacio. Procesos experimentales y performances sin terminar, performances con materiales orgánicos, insólitos, arriesgados y dispares como fuego o fluidos corporales, performances desinhibidas, transgresoras, interactivas y viscerales. The first time I visited {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} was in 2016, barely a year after my arrival in Chicago. One of my teachers from the performance department was presenting a new work at {\}() {\}∆‡|(){\} and invited our class to discover the space and the talent of emerging local artists. I remember the first impact; a mixture of fascination, wonder, warmth and comfort, an absolute sense of …

Landscape of What is the Midwest? exhibition at The Newberry Library

What is the Midwest?

“Place is a home, be it homestead, henhouse, town, nest, den, or cave. Place is renewal. It is history and hope for those who dwell there.” —Jill Metcoff “Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers.” —Andrew Jackson, 1829 State of the Union Address The door is a question mark, one that also punctuated the title of the recent Newberry Library exhibition What is the Midwest? It’s a question I’ve been stuck on for years now, as I’ve grown and felt the tugging that can only happen after you have sprouted roots in a place. This question of place functions as storage organ for the words and images produced by creators in the region. It is a lonely sort of potato. It can power the work – we feel we have to prove our place – or drag us down – we feel we have to prove our place. Writer Dorothy Allison grew up in one such no-place, “the place that is no place for most other people.” The truck stop. …

Talking Culture and Taking Chances with Urooj Shakeel

Like many people who move to Chicago, Urooj Shakeel made the decision to relocate from a suburb of Detroit after realizing that if she wanted to try her hand at a career in the arts, now was the time. She doubled down and left long careers in healthcare and marketing to study arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to her move, she took a moment to reflect on her love of Detroit and the ways in which it seeded her love for art. Urooj wrote on her website, “I could go on forever talking about Detroit and all the artworks I’ve come across, interacted with and studied. How each one of them inspired me in my own art projects and where my ideas originated from. I can never be thankful enough for my colossal beginnings in Detroit. Everything I’ve learned from this city will inspire me in everything I plan to do in Chicago.” Her words foreshadow how she would shape her practice after landing in Chicago …

Intimate Justice: Clitora Leigh

“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 met with Clitora Leigh in Andersonville to talk about strip clubs in Chicago, coming out as a sex worker, and being a sexy clown.  S. Nicole: I saw you perform at Reunion and was like—oh my gosh—I have to talk to this person! It was amazing. Are you from Chicago? If you’re not, what brought you here? Did you go to school?  Clitora Leigh: I’m originally from the Cleveland area. I’ve lived in Chicago for six years. I studied theater performance at Ohio University. I got my BFA, and then immediately after I graduated, I was like – okay, I have six hundred dollars in medical bills, how will I ever pay this off?! I couldn’t even fathom having six hundred dollars in my life. I was working in a daycare. Around that time, I started stripping. So, I’ve been stripping for, …

Three Poems by Sharanya Sharma

content warning: descriptions of violence nandi relays a message after an endless swallowing    of years a little girl, limbs molded from mother’s darkest saffron stole   to my soot-stoned side hewn from sweat      and love.  hungrily she cupped a hand        to my frozen ear.      the cold pelt          singed        in her exhale   as  with earth-stained lips she scratched words           into being   the way eyes were once carved            into my face.    she said               lord       give me a mouth           that is too full            of teeth to hold a prayer still              in my blood.  and skittered away      before a guard     could tell her not to touch me             as if the whorls            of her ancestors’ fingers            were not imprinted     in my skin.  unblinking i gaze into a land of concrete      and glass. even here,    in a view of metal ants and water         i cannot cross, i see              your feet  blue thighs poised      melding into              sea and sky                  toes jeweled            in a blanket                of white.  they call it snow. the falling of silk slivers that disappear into hair               and flesh.  lord, tell me.        will they     know the …

Featured image: Sharanya Sharma. Sharma sits with hands folded on a white table, with copies of “Set Fire to This Crooked House” and multi-colored notebooks in the foreground. Sharma wears a marigold cardigan open over a black and white striped shirt and smiles at the camera. Behind Sharma are several pastel throw pillows and a large plant, and natural light comes through the windows. Photo by Kristie Kahns Photography.

Beyond the Page: Sharanya Sharma

“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 writer Sharanya Sharma about her MFA thesis project, “Set Fire to This Crooked House,” a poetry collection that she is in the process of developing into a book. We spoke this summer about how her poems re-envision Hindu mythology and critique histories of colonization, especially in relation to museum culture; how acts of retelling can help keep stories alive; and the broader impacts she hopes her work has. Three poems from “Set Fire to This Crooked House” are published on Sixty here. Find Sharma on Twitter @sharanyawrites. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Marya Spont-Lemus: I loved the poems you shared at the MFA reading and am so excited to learn more about the collection and your plans for it. Is that program what brought you to Chicago originally? SS: It is. I was a teacher full-time for six years and didn’t have much …

Most Read Articles of 2019

In 2019 Sixty published over 140 articles about Chicago’s artists, archivists, writers, organizers, activists, cultural workers, and extended community. This list of Sixty’s most-read articles of the year is a snapshot into the ones that had you lingering on our website throughout the year. Brought to you by writers Amanda Dee, Michael Fischer (with Gretchen Hasse), Angelica Flores, Courtney Graham (with Ryan Edmund), Tempestt Hazel, Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel (with Josh Johnson), Chelsea Ross, Sasha Tycko, and Tamara Becerra Valdez, here are our 10 most-read articles in no particular order: _All images taken from their original articles. All photo credit can be found at each link. 

Nadia Stiegman: FARM 1350

Nadia Stiegman is an artist living and working in Thawville, Illinois. Her photography explores rural queer identity, but in a light not often seen. Tired of the same narratives of rural queerness, such as packing up and moving to the big city to escape the rural environment, Nadia instead paints a picture of the rural queer identity through a positive lens. Her work is deeply connected to farmlife, an environment where she grew up, yet at the same time it’s futuristic, queer, and so much more. Nadia refers to herself as “a  rural, trans, cyborg who grew up on my family’s grain farm in Central Illinois.” The farm Nadia is referring to is all open spaces surrounded either by corn or bean fields. Her farm sits on a dead end, which is a mile away from her town of Thawville, with a population of only 150 people. She tells Midwesterners who don’t know where that is, “it’s about 45 minutes north of Champaign and 45 south of Kankakee.”   Nadia is a recent graduate from Illinois …

Why I Die In Winter

After taking the longest, hottest shower, the cold air beyond the curtain grabbed at my skin like frigid hands ripping me from the arms of a warm lover. That was the morning that Jeremy died. It felt like the end was near the night before. He asked me to put his rocking chair on the enclosed front porch even though it was the dead of winter, and freezing. A snowstorm had blanketed the lawns, trees, hedges, and rooftops, creating a picturesque scene that covered the bloodstained streets, grass depraved lawns, dying trees, and crooked hedges the summer left behind in our South Side neighborhood. The storm drowned out the sounds of every block.  We sat in silence for a moment, wrapped in layers of African mud cloth and every blanket we could find, taking in deep breaths of crisp, cold air, relieving our lungs of the sickroom smell we inhaled daily.  “Remember when?” Jeremy said as he lit up a joint.  I immediately began to laugh because he was so funny.  “Remember when we first …

December Art Picks

Our Art Picks are created in collaboration with The Visualist, Chicago’s leading visual arts calendar, and cross-promoted through Windy City Times, one of the longest locally-published LGBTQ weeklies with a national reach. Click here to get our Art Picks and latest articles delivered to your inbox monthly. This is a growing list, so check back often for new additions. Sat – Sun, Nov 30 – Dec 1Connect South Shore Arts FestivalJeffrey Mall: 7131 S. Jeffery StreetFree Sun, Dec 1, 10am-12:30pm Drag Queen Story Time and Brunch: Holiday Edition Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago: 220 E Chicago Ave Free Sun, Dec 1, 12-2pm Sanctuary Sunday | Teshika Silver: Tarot & Intention 6018NORTH: 6018 N Kenmore Ave Free – $40 Sun, Dec 1, 1-3pm Noname’s Book Club Chicago Meet-Up Stony Island Arts Bank: 6760 S Stony Island Ave Free Sun, Dec 1, 5-8pm For the Time Being ACRE Projects: 1345 W 19th St Free Mon, Dec 2, 4:30-7:30pm The Nap Ministry Smart Museum of Art: 5550 S Greenwood Ave Free Mon, Dec 2, 9:30-11:30pm Susan Sontag: Duet for Cannibals Doc Films …

Recipes for a post-colonial kitchen: maize / Recetas para una cocina poscolonial: el maíz

I remember the days before smartphones when my parents would load me and my brothers up into our white, blue velvet interior, 1985 Oldsmobile Toronado to make the 2-day trip down south to visit our grandparents. It was always a hot summer, a 24 hour drive to the border, 12 hours to Durango, and a few extra hours here and there so my dad could sleep. This was usually somewhere just outside of Tulsa, and after getting through Border Patrol in Nuevo Laredo. I knew the path in my heart. No matter how far away we were, I felt the magnetic pull that snapped us from our house in Aurora, Illinois to the fig trees growing in the yard behind my grandmother’s kitchen in Durango. Mexico was my summer camp. As the in-car map reader, it was my job to make sure we took I-55 South through St. Louis so we could drive over that spectacular bridge that crossed the Mississippi River. My father, a former truck driver who is very familiar with this route, …

Installation view of Men of Change. The installation made of metal poles is in the middle of the room. Light boxes of various sizes featuring photos and text are hung on the metal poles. A large display box in front of the installation features a poster that reads STORYTELLERS. Along the walls of the room are paintings and other artworks, most of which are obscured by the metal pole installation in the middle of the room. A woman stands in front of the light box installation, looking at the installation. Photo by Phil Armstrong. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

Have you seen them? “Men of Change” at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

“Have you seen them? You see them. Bold. Powerful.         Tragic. Beautiful.                 And true. They are icons with warrior roots. They are trees of knowledge. Legends of the past, inspiration for the future, the fierce energy of now.” The introductory text to “Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth.” paints a picture of what you can expect within the two rooms containing the ambitious exhibition. “Men of Change” highlights the accomplishments and legacies of black American men through text, photography, and artwork from twenty-five American artists. The changemakers — some long gone, many still alive — were paired with artists who made artwork related to, about, or honoring them.     The exhibition is organized by the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibitions Services (SITES), and will travel to ten locations over the next three years. It debuted at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is on view until December 1, after which it will head to the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington. WeShouldDoItAll (WSDIA), a Brooklyn-based design studio responsible for the “Making A …

The Southwest Nest / El Nido Suroeste: An Interview with Alina Estrada (English & Español)

Brighton Park, Back of the Yards, and McKinley Park are neighborhoods on the Southwest Side of Chicago that are bundled together so often that they are given a similar reputation and narrative by the media. It isn’t always a good one. Today these neighborhoods still face violence, poverty, and more recently, gentrification. I would like to challenge the idea that violence is the only thing these neighborhoods have to offer by shining a light on the creative minds that enrich them. In this series, “The Southwest Nest,” I hope to celebrate and recognize these artists and share with you their perspectives of the neighborhoods they either work in or call home. Crafting has always been part of the fabric of the Southwest Side. Even as Crafts by Claudia, a neighborhood store that has been running for almost 40 years in Back of the Yards, prepares to close its doors, artist Alina Estrada is working on expanding her own crafty business, Party Mama Crafts. This Latina-owned business hosts painting and piñata-crafting workshops and classes. I had the …