All posts filed under: Interviews

Featured Image: Work by February James. We Laugh Loud So The Spirits Can Hear, 2020. Installation view. Five highly expressive, framed watercolor portraits hang in the gallery. Image Courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery.

The Artist as Changemaker: A Conversation with February James

I’m not even going to belabor the conversation about how we are all living through some of the most challenging times that we may ever see in our existence. We are simply trying to survive a global pandemic amongst civil unrest in the wake of police brutality and efforts to dismantle white supremacy, all during an extremely high stakes election year.  As an artist, I know I’m not the only one who has received these types of emails over the past few months,  “We hope you understand that your exhibition has been postponed due to circumstances surrounding the global pandemic.”  “The gallery has implemented a virtual platform to promote your work in lieu of an in-person exhibition opening.” “Your health and well-being is extremely important to us, which is why we have decided to cancel your upcoming event.”  The pandemic has changed every aspect of our daily lives. Schools, jobs, social gatherings, shopping, exhibitions, festivals, events, and countless others can be added to the never-ending list of things that no longer operate as they once …

Intimate Justice: Ricardo Partida

“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 the painter and recent SAIC graduate Ricardo Partida about greek mythology and power dynamics. I first stumbled upon Partida’s work through Instagram, following them through a digital world and was re-introduced while viewing the SAIC MFA Graduate Thesis Show. The figures in Partida’s paintings stare deeply at the viewer, inviting them into a naughty, dark, and sexy world.     S. Nicole Lane: Where are you from? What led you to Chicago and how has the community here impacted your work?  Ricardo Partida: I was raised in the valley; a small, cursed town 15 minutes north of the south Texas-Mexican border. I came to Chicago for grad school at The School of The Art Institute of Chicago and recently completed my MFA in Painting and Drawing. Being in Chicago has been a wild ride. Much like a relationship, we have had our …

Image: Installation view of Cameron Spratley's exhibition "730" at M. LeBlanc

Harnessing the Helter Skelter: An Interview with Cameron Spratley

Cameron Spratley’s abrasive artworks wield mechanisms of prejudice against themselves. Famous and invented protagonists populate his canvases, enmeshed in morbid tags, raunchy ads, and biting lyrics. From Michael Jackson to Dale Earnhardt Sr., Spratley selects celebrity subjects engulfed in tragedy and controversy not to lament, but rather to evoke monocultural moments. His work compresses time like the walls of subway stations, with layered declarations of shared simulacra and common turf. Spratley tags, tattoos, sprays, stains, and fissures the surface of his work in a disruptive mark-making that renders ephemeral techniques with permanence.  While at first they may come off as irreverent, Spratley’s artworks are effigies to the anxiety, vitality, and complexity of being young and Black in the United States. As objects, his paintings serve as vessels for distress in a moment when a nation plagued with systemic racism confronts complicity and reckons for justice. Spratley’s work is challenging. He asks viewers to untangle visuals and text, like “NO AIRBAGS / WE DIE LIKE MEN” and “LIFE SENTENCE”, a forced investment that requires deliberate deciphering …

MCAccountable’s Demands

White supremacy, exploitative labor, capitalism, and abusive hierarchies are rampant within art and cultural institutions. And the MCA is no exception. On July 16th, staff from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago demanded action to protect the safety of workers and towards uprooting white supremacy and racial injustice within the museum. They wrote a list of demands addressed to the Pritzker Director of the MCA, Madeleine Grynsztejn.  Full-time and part-time staff, artists, volunteers, and the public joined MCAccountable to bring to the light the performative allyship and pandering that the museum has presented to the city. With 50 percent of MCA staff saying they felt uncomfortable returning to work, and 13 percent saying they felt uncertain, leadership dismissed the Human Resource Re-Entry Survey and opened it’s doors on July 24th. The collective stated that reopening is “dangerous, irresponsible, ableist, and racist” in the wake of a pandemic with cases only rising every day. To date, 956 people have signed on in support of MCAccountable’s collective statement and demands. What do Black lives look like for the …

Featured image: Selva Aparicio, Entre Nosotros (Among Us) Detail, 2020. Concrete tiles cast from human cadavers. The images show a close up of the piece, showing details of a grid of square, concrete blocks. Each block has different folds, and one shows a nipple, all cast from human parts. Photo by Robert Chase Heishman. Image courtesy of the artist.

Works Cited: Selva Aparicio on Life, Death, and Breaking Taboo

It goes without saying that so much of the labor in an artist’s practice goes unseen, ranging from the countless hours of trial and error experimenting with a medium before getting it right, to the often mind-numbing planning and prep work when starting a new piece. However, there is yet another layer below the surface of this complex production that is inherent to the creative process: research. There is a collection of information, images, and archives that happens even before any pen is put to paper, feeding and informing an artist’s body of work. Works Cited asks artists to uncover this part of their practice with us, sharing research materials such as essays, playlists, online archives, and tips on how to navigate them. In the spirit of open access, this column also serves as a resource in and of itself, as each interview includes access to these materials in the form of either reading lists or sharable links. In this edition, I spoke with Selva Aparicio, whose interdisciplinary work examines life, death, and mourning through the use …

Featured Image: The marquee of The Art Theater in Champaign, Illinois reads “For Sale or Rent.” The Art Theater’s sign is red and retro. The brick building is located on a downtown street, with residential apartments above the theater. Photo by Jessica Hammie.

Support for the Arts Supports Us All

Before I moved to Central Illinois, I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the ways arts and culture programs affect a community. Living in a mid-sized town/small city/micro-urban area for a little over a decade has changed the way I think about community and what it means to have access to those types of programs. Dynamic arts and culture programming signals that residents are engaged and active, that this is a place people should want to live. It signals that a municipality values its citizens, and is interested in helping create a community where a rich quality of life is revered. An engaged arts community celebrates and challenges its members and residents; it’s more than a collection of people making stuff or putting on performances. These programs indicate there is an infrastructure that supports community connection and potential for conversations about difficult subjects that can advocate for change. Active and critically engaged arts support systems within communities are vital to the growth and progress of small towns like Champaign-Urbana. In a diverse community like C-U, …

Beyond the Page: Tanuja Devi Jagernauth

“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 Tanuja Devi Jagernauth — Indo-Caribbean playwright, dramaturg, organizer — about how her practices in theater, prison abolition, healing justice, and transformative justice interconnect; creating spaces for BIPOC theater-makers; doing mutual aid during and beyond the pandemic; and how she challenges systems of oppression and struggles for collective liberation through her work. Tanuja and I spoke in May. We recognize that in the weeks since then there has been a broadened nation-wide uprising against policing and other white supremacist systems — an uprising sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and innumerable others, as well as by other forms of anti-Black violence. We recognize that these racist acts are part of a long, systematized lineage. And we recognize that there have always been organizers and artists visioning and building against, beyond, and outside of that. We have decided to publish this …

Works Cited: Assotto’s Child at the Altar

It goes without saying that so much of the labor in an artist’s practice goes unseen, ranging from the countless hours of trial and error experimenting with a medium before getting it right, to the often mind-numbing planning and prep work when starting a new piece. However, there is yet another layer below the surface of this complex production that is inherent to the creative process: research. There is collection of information, images, and archives that happens even before any pen is put to paper, feeding and informing an artist’s body of work. Works Cited asks artists to uncover this part of their practice with us, sharing research materials such as essays, playlists, online archives, and tips on how to navigate them. In the spirit of open access, this column also serves as a resource in and of itself, as each interview includes access to these materials in the form of either reading lists or sharable links. In this edition, I spoke with Mario LaMothe about his collaborative project Assotto’s Child at the Altar, which …

Inaccessibility as Material: an interview with Alison O’Daniel

Alison O’Daniel is a visual artist and filmmaker whose ongoing project The Tuba Thieves interweaves elements of sound composition, sculptural installation, performance, and film. Beginning in 2011, The Tuba Thieves has been screened and exhibited in numerous iterations, expanding and complicating the notion of a filmic whole. Using a film as a site through which to explore how continuity, equivalency, and legibility intersect O’Daniel’s work complicates the presumption of normativity inherent in traditional cinematic and narrative modes. Building a vocabulary of missing information, misunderstanding, and processual aesthetics, The Tuba Thieves asks us to rethink differing sensory experiences as a generative and imperative storytelling force.  The following is an excerpt from a longer conversation conducted over Google Meet between the artist, Christopher Robert Jones, and Liza Sylvestre. Google Meet was chosen after discussing various video conferencing platforms and their inadequate accessibility features.  Liza Sylvestre: How do you wake up? Alison O’Daniel: My dog wakes me up. She comes in and punches the bed. She is a deaf boxer and she wakes me up every day at …

New Beginnings and Jeni McFarland

I interviewed fiction writer and Michigan-native Jeni McFarland about her debut novel, The House of Deep Water. We spoke about her writing process, the small Midwest farming town that makes up her book, and the novel’s themes of biracial identity, depression, family, new beginnings, and a community with secrets.  The House of Deep Water is available now from G.P. Putnam & Sons. Find McFarland on Twitter @jeni_mcfarland. Emily Stochl: Tell us about the writing process for The House of Deep Water. Jeni McFarland: I started this project when I was in graduate school. I was taking a class taught by Robert Boswell, and he gave us a prompt based on four different books we were reading—one was told in vignettes, one was told all in one day, one was told all in one year, and one was a novel in stories. He wanted us to try out different forms and see what felt good. I started writing about this small town, which looked kind of like the small town I grew up in, and it …

Intimate Justice: Sarah Bastress

“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 with Rogers Park resident, Sarah Bastress, who hails from West Virginia and paints the queer body. S. Nicole Lane: How did you end up in Chicago? How did being raised in West Virginia impact your work? (I’m from North Carolina! Southern queers unite!) Sarah Bastress: I came to Chicago to do my post-bacc at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then went on to do my MFA there, too. I ended up really enjoying my neighborhood and staying. I appreciate you asking about West Virginia. It has impacted my work a great deal. I don’t have an answer for you that isn’t incredibly long-winded. Since Trump won, the question is much more complicated. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and I miss mountains–the ones that have yet to be blown up to make …

Perto de Lá < > Close to There: Inaê Moreira and Alexandria Eregbu in Conversation

Esta entrevista foi editada para garantir clareza e comprimento, e foi traduzida para nossos leitores no Brasil com as seções em português em itálico, e em inglês em tipo normal. Inaê Moreira: Oi Alexandria, muito prazer! Sou uma artista de salvador, bahia, brasil. Trabalho com as artes do corpo, dança e performance. Através do meu trabalho tenho investigando questões que envolvem ancestralidade e memória negra. Gostaria de saber o que você tem criado nesse campo: corpo negro, ancestralidade, memória? Alexandria Eregbu: Oi Inaê! Há muitos trabalhos dentro da minha prática que lidam com o corpo negro, memória, e ancestralidade. Do ponto de vista da materialidade- uma das razões principais pelas quais eu comecei a trabalhar com a tintura do índigo veio da minha curiosidade para aprender mais sobre a contribuição negra à história da produção têxtil. Essa história não era reconhecida durante meu tempo na escola de arte, quando me concentrei em fibras. Intelectualmente, eu queria estar imersa em mais recursos que se refiram às conexões da África ocidental com os tecidos e com a performatividade como maneira …

Purple Window Gallery: A Quarantine Initiative Brings Exhibitions to Our Windows

Full disclosure: S. Nicole Lane is a participating artist and board member of Purple Window Gallery. Lauren Iacoponi is an artist, curator, and writer who is the co-founder and director of the gallery.  Due to COVID-19, her plans of opening up the store-front gallery space have been postponed. As a result, she has launched an at-home initiative for artists all over the world to participate in. This interview took place via email in early April.  S. Nicole Lane: Can you tell us a little bit about the opening of Purple Window Gallery and when you decided to open up your own space? Lauren Iacoponi: I’ve spent the past several months initiating a project space called Purple Window (coming soon to Avondale, Chicago). I’m the director and co-founder of this upcoming space.  Purple Window is artist-led and community-supported. As an artist cooperative, Purple Window is jointly owned and democratically controlled by its members, so I don’t personally view Purple Window as “my own space.” But I did initiate the co-op and invite each of its members …

Perto de Lá < > Close to There: Adriana Araujo and Josh Rios in Conversation

Esta entrevista foi editada para garantir clareza e comprimento, e foi traduzida para nossos leitores no Brasil com as seções em português em itálico, e em inglês em tipo normal. Adriana Araujo: Gostaria de começar nosso encontro pelo meio, esse tempo aqui agora, nos constituindo continuamente.  Estou neste momento ao lado de uma árvore a quem chamo de Generosa, é uma mangueira do quintal da casa que vivo, que dá frutos suculentos e doces, ela abriga pássaros, lagartixas, morcegos, formigas, entre outros seres vivos, alguns invisíveis. Além de abrigar um mundo inteiro em si, Generosa produz sombra e ameniza o calor nos dias ensolarados da cidade que vivo faz pouco menos de cinco anos, Santa Maria da Vitória. Aqui quase todos os dias (às vezes penso que as noites também) são de sol intenso. O céu hoje amanheceu parcialmente nublado, mas quase sempre o céu é bem azul. Quando sinto muita saudade de Salvador, o lugar onde nasci e vivi a maior parte da minha vida, é só olhar para o céu e me inventar mais perto do …

Perto de Lá < > Close to There: João Oliveira and Amina Ross in Conversation

Esta entrevista foi editada para garantir clareza e comprimento, e foi traduzida para nossos leitores no Brasil com as seções em português em itálico, e em inglês em tipo normal. Amina: Oi João, eu estava olhando as gravuras feitas com as peles de animais de plástico abertas e achei que temos um interesse em comum naquilo que existe alem da superficie do dia-a-dia. Como você expressou tão bem, eu vejo seu interesse em uma “força capaz de romper a superfície daquilo que se acostumou.” Existe alguma coisa que você procura encontrar no desdobramento de um corpo? No rompimento da superfície? Há ainda alguma coisa que você não encontrou? O que continua a te mover nessa exploração? This interview has been edited for clarity and length, and translated for our readers in Brazil with the Portuguese sections in italics, and the English sections unitalicized. Amina:  Hi João. I was looking at the prints made of the unfolded plastic animal skins and I think we share an interest in what exists beyond the surface of our everyday. As you put it …

Image: Installation shot of Iceberg Projects exhibition “David Wojnarowicz: Flesh of My Flesh,” June 23 – August 5, 2018. In the middle of the room, a sculpture sits on a white pedestal, encased in glass. A world map with words overlaying the image is hanging on the wall to the left, and a video screen is displaying a video on the partial brick wall directly in front of the viewer. Image courtesy of Iceberg Projects.

Tip of the Iceberg: A Conversation with Iceberg Projects

Iceberg Projects is a non- commercial art gallery in a converted coach house at the northernmost tip of Chicago. Over the past ten years, Iceberg Projects has hosted a number of historically important shows, especially of queer and other underrepresented artists, including group shows like the Art+Positive archive, Feel Me?, and Broken Flag to solo shows of David Wojnarowicz, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Kevin Killian, Barbara DeGenevieve, and Steffani Jemison.  Inseparable from the history of Iceberg is the man behind it, whose backyard anchors Iceberg Projects. Dr. Dan Berger is an HIV specialist who helped develop the drug cocktail widely used for treatment. Recently, he released a video offering expert medical insight into how COVID 19 as it particularly affects HIV and queer communities. But his commitment to queer community extends beyond his medical practice and into his art collection, which focuses on queer and black artists.  I visited Dr. Berger in his Rogers Park home to talk about the history of the space. We also talked at length about institutional risk-taking and archiving queer legacies.  + …

SLAYSIAN: An Abundance of Stories

Jenny Lam curates interactive and compelling exhibitions that spontaneously create community, bringing people together in fun and unexpected ways. Her 2012 exhibition I CAN DO THAT (named “Best Art Exhibit” by audience choice in NewCity’s 20th anniversary Best of Chicago issue) took on that often dismissive and frustrating phrase heard by many an artist at an opening and handed out art supplies for viewers to go ahead and try. Lam’s  2016 show LEXICON replaced the ubiquitous artist’s statement with blank paper for the audience to supply their own reactions. In 2020, she was all set to follow up these acclaimed shows with SLAYSIAN, a show celebrating Asian American artists from Chicago and the Midwest. And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Even before Illinois’ shelter-in-place orders, Lam made the responsible decision to call off the public opening reception. But that doesn’t mean the end of the show. Since she couldn’t bring audiences to see the show in person, she brought SLAYSIAN directly to audiences, transforming it into an online exhibition we can view from the safety …

Blackness, Images & the Space Between

A conversation with Milwaukee based fine artist Nick Drain and Genesis Gallery owner, artist, and organizer Randy Brown. Nick recently held his first solo exhibition “In Plain Sight” at Genesis and our collective discussion quickly found its way circling around and through larger topics like race, identity, viewership and the politics of the Milwaukee art scene. Over the course of the last few months, I let our conversation sink in and settle where it needed to in order for me to get down to the guts of what the discussion meant for all of us. I have a distinct memory of the moment I stood in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. It was the summer before college, I was only 18 years old and I didn’t think of myself as an artist then. I think back to that trip reflecting on the enormity and impact of viewing that painting in the flesh, and I realized it was a moment that hit me too early in …

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 …

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 …

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, …

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 …

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, …

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 …

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 …

In House: Pilsen Community Books with Mary Gibbons

This is the first interview of “In House,” an oral history series entering the places that house books across Chicago. Sections of this interview have been edited for length and clarity.   I first heard the rumor from a fellow reader who in turn heard it from another reader (word travels fast amongst readers): Pilsen Community Books was for sale. On July 19, the owners of the three-year-old bookstore broke the news to devotees, explaining their decision to focus on their other bookstore, The Dial, and also announcing prospects of a buyer. The future, however, was uncertain.   When Mary Gibbons and Aaron Lippelt opened Pilsen Community Books (PCB) in February 2016 at 1102 W. 18th St., they filled a need on the Lower West Side not only for a bookstore but for a place to host literary events and local publications, a place to connect. In a “triple-secret unofficial” email correspondence from PCB employee Manuel Morales y Méndez, Méndez celebrated one such connection between a young writer and artist whose meeting at PCB led …

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 …