The Block Muse

Artists' Congress Recognitions

In recognition of the work of artists collaborating with social justice organizations, the organizers of the Congress reached out to six such organizations working throughout Chicago to offer the names of artists making meaningful contributions to their work. The nominating organizations include: Teachers for Social Justice, ARISE, Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Grassroots Collaborative, Southside Together Organizing, and Community Justice for Youth Institute. For a complete list of nominated artists and samples of their work visit: www.artistscongressopencall.com

NOMINATED ARTISTS

Ellen Gradman, nominated by Teachers For Social Justice

Jen Juárez, nominated by Teachers For Social Justice

Jamie Hayes, nominated by ARISE

Mike Siviwe Elliott, nominated by Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Sarah Wild, nominated by Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Toyin Aboyade Cole, nominated by Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression

Sarah Jane Rhee, nominated by Grassroots Collaborative

Veronica Morris-Moore, nominated by Southside Together Organizing for Power

Darius Lightfoot, nominated by Southside Together Organizing for Power

Dorothy Burge, nominated by Community Justice for Youth Institute


ARTISTS CONGRESS RECOGNITIONS

Ellen Gradman

www.sparkyourart.com

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

My parents met teaching at CPS. My father taught at Lane Tech for thirty-five years and was on the picket line in 1969. I taught for thirty years, beginning in elementary education, teaching second grade for a few years and then after receiving a Masters in Art Education, I taught art for the majority of my career. I love teaching, but the actual work of teaching in a school, day after day, can be extremely toxic. Teaching is a hard job for so many reasons. So, even if I’m not formally teaching right now, I understand what teachers go through every day.

This week is the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education. The ruling opened the door to the possibility of educational equity for Black and Latino children. However, Chicago’s educational system perpetuates separate and unequal access to education.  

Our entire education system is archaic and we need an education revolution! However, the neoliberal reform that is happening, with Chicago as the “golden child,” is the destruction of public education and free thought! This is my reason for being involved in this fight and creating images to further the message.

The best part of being an activist in the education movement in Chicago is that there are many groups that are working together to move our agenda forward. It is a very Chicago way of organizing: through hard work, ideologies, and collaboration.  

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

My art work is a combination of my visual work, my teaching, my activism, and whatever else is happening in my life. There is no separation between my art work and everything else. The type of work I create is mixed media and filled with stuff! The past few years, I have been very interested in using my work in installations that include viewer participation. The images I have been creating for the fight for education are available for free downloads, for sharing and creating. The images are used as signs at rallies, Facebook profile pictures, t-shirts, and other uses. I also have been creating art experiences – “rigorous creativity” at events like the Neighborhood School Fair and other protest events.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

Using the arts in ways to engage the public in thought, dialogue, change, and protest. Provide experiences that allow everyone to have a voice!


Jennifer Juárez

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

I got involved with TSJ in 2011 while I was in graduate school at the College of Education at UIC. During this time, I was organizing marches in Chicago regarding undocumented issues and was going to participate in a civil disobedience – so I felt that TSJ was a space where I could expand my knowledge regarding education and that their work jived with the work I was doing around undocumented issues. That same year, I traveled with TSJ to Wisconsin to protest around the collective bargaining issue and volunteered at their annual curriculum fair. Currently, I sit on the TSJ leadership committee and help organize the curriculum fair.  My current job as an academic adviser at the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services program (LARES) at UIC has allowed me to focus my work with TSJ on issues in higher education. Much work is being done around school closings and charter schools – my purpose in TSJ is to create links between the issues happening in elementary/high schools and universities.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I focus on photojournalism. My intention with photography is to document the emotion and lived experiences of people of color. My dad is a photographer and a journalist and I grew up with his style of documenting families and concerts. I feel that documenting history is very important and my contribution to certain movements is by documenting the experiences – to have something to look back on and analyze people’s emotions during the social movement process.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

Folks should grapple with the way artists interpret their view of society, culture, and politics. Art is so fluid and it allows for much interpretation and I think that’s the beauty of it; art allows folks to interpret their own analysis of certain things artists might be experiencing at a personal or social level – to document all of those emotions in an art piece is powerful. Additionally, I believe that art is a form of healing from the emotions of everyday life and a way to cope with the complexities of society. It will be beautiful to see how each artist interprets their own world.


Jamie Hayes

www.jamielhayes.com 

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

After ten years of work in the garment industry, in 2009 I began a masters program at the University of Chicago’s school of Social Service Administration. I focused my studies on labor rights, specifically within the garment industry. I began work as an organizer for Arise Chicago as part of an externship for my masters work, then stayed for an additional year post graduation. I was drawn to Arise because of the organization’s mix of theory and practice, and advocacy and on-the-ground organizing and agitation.

While the work I did at Arise was not art work, the work of organizing can and should be creative, and the ultimate goal of the expansion of human and labor rights is to give everyone – regardless of class, gender, race, sexuality, and citizenship status – the time, security, and freedom to do things like make and enjoy art in its many and varied forms.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I am first and foremost a fashion designer. I am currently developing a line of ethically made clothing for men and women called Production Mode that will launch in July of 2014. It is my goal that transparency in the supply chain and consciousness about the environmental and labor impacts of the production of fashion be considered the norm rather than the exception in the industry.

My advocacy work is currently focused on a campaign led by Chicago Fair Trade to pass an ordinance in the City of Chicago ensuring that uniforms and other apparel procured by the City be manufactured without the use of sweatshops. The ordinance includes monitoring and enforcement mechanisms which require vendors to make their supply chains transparent and that they submit to labor audits ensuring that work is performed by adults, and that workers are paid a living wage, have the right to organize, work in a healthy and safe environment, and have access to anonymous reporting mechanisms to report any labor rights violations.

The subject of my artwork is the social meaning of fashion, e.g. Why do we wear what we wear? What are we trying to say with our clothing? How do others read our appearance and are we in control of these readings? For my most recent project, I worked collaboratively with participants to design a uniform, with each participant writing about why they chose their given uniform. This subject allowed me to draw on my labor organizing background and also to get to the heart of the questions listed above, as uniforms are typically used to classify, identify, segregate, and/or control groups of people, but can also be used to erase differences and equalize individuals. Participants’ responses included homages and subversions of uniforms – both archetypal, formally coded uniforms as well as the informal, unspoken dress codes that exist within a given profession or culture. The pieces were made to measure, subverting the dictates of fast fashion and mass production that often reinforce pressures to mold our bodies to ready-to-wear sizing rather than molding our clothing to fit us. The work was shown in a runway presentation with participants modeling their own uniforms.

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

Artists are typically fiercely independent and not apt to join groups or work as an organized entity. Yet social movements need the creative ideas and labor of artists in order to succeed. For a true Artists’ Congress to develop, trust and common ground must be found amongst the group. Making matters more challenging is the fact that our enemies are no longer as clear cut as the anti-fascist sentiments that united the original Artists’ Congress. We work on different issues and are constantly inundated with messages of scarcity of resources. We are pitted against one another to obtain a meager slice of the pie.

For me, the goal is to make connections between our seemingly disparate issues. The rhetoric of the Occupy movements was effective for me in that it united many disparate movements against a common enemy of unmitigated Capitalism – a power structure that values profit over people and perpetuates inequalities of gender, race, and sexuality in a myriad of ways that diminishes all of us. Similarly, it’s also important to acknowledge that we live in a globalized world that requires an equally globalized, transnational approach to organizing.


Toyin Aboyade Cole

www.toyincole.com

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

Ted Pearson was referred to me for print work on an upcoming event on a 2013 Call to the National Forum that the CAARPR was putting together.  Post-event, I have continued to work on several brochures, flyers and print work for their upcoming events and campaigns.  Working with them has been a great accomplishment – helping assist in such a powerful and motivating cause that denotes substantial grounds to take action.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I am a graphic designer and photographer.  I do a lot of print work and branding by formulating designs tailored to display the identity of my client.  As a photographer, I do fashion, portraits, events, and I’m just getting started in real estate.  My love for art is limitless and I am always looking at different genres, styles and collaborations to stimulate my creativity.  I am visually motivated daily, by almost anything I encounter.  The world is a very interesting place and my perception of it transmits into the art I create, giving it many possibilities.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

To bring more attention from the local press and the national art magazines to Chicago art, Chicago artists, and galleries. 


Mike Siviwe Elliott

www.youtube.com/user/digitalasset1

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

I became involved with the CAARPR, because the organization had an intelligent and effective approach to resolving police torture and violence in communities of color. My involvement has been as a video activist who records and posts videos online and I take photos of our activities. I am also the Labor Secretary and I serve as the liaison to labor unions and organizations.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I create videos and capture photos related to our cause. I am driven by love of humanity and my disdain for injustice.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

I think that the Artists’ Congress should create works that reflect the concerns and challenges facing communities of color. Most importantly, the Artists’ Congress should focus on developing programs that teach various forms of creative expression to children of color, to enable them to channel their amazing energy in positive directions.


Sarah Wild 

www.naarpr.org  

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

Most of my involvement with CAARPR has been with their Stop Police Crimes campaign (SPC).  Chicago has a dense, dark history and ongoing present of police crimes against its African American and Latino communities, predominantly those also facing the violence of poverty (though this city is not an exception but a particular example of systemic nationwide racist police oppression that supports our capitalist global economy). SPC has actively involved police crime victims and their loved ones fighting together for justice, with very concrete demands being fought for by the Civilian Police Accountability Council.

I am very honored to be working with them – the fight for systemic change of policing practices and policies is a real call of justice for all. As a white middle class person who will never experience firsthand our systemic racist policing of existence, I do refuse to accept this unjust world of injustice and inequality that we live in sitting down – by sitting I mean remaining in the dead neoliberal comforts of a gallery or striving for the rewards of a well-heeled art resume. 

I am a member of CAARPR’s SPC media committee – we work on images and language for flyers, banners, social media, e-newsletters, and the website. We use video and photography documenting the testimonies of police crimes victims and their family members, SPC events and actions.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I have not been, what the art world calls a practicing artist,  for a long time – I was originally trained as a painter but ended up using a whole range of media, from video/film to sculpture, drawings with various performance events thrown in. I worked in an arts collaborative for a while working on a sort of documentary project studying bathroom graffiti in Knoxville, TN. With another art comrade here in Chicago, I played both the back and front end of a pantomime horse playing at being a parked car.  I then studied philosophy for a long time – trying my hardest to have a thought ...  it’s really, really hard.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

How to not be an artist that, in the name of art, supports our world staying as it is – structured by socio-economic violence expressed and supported by police crimes!


Sarah Jane Rhee

www.loveandstrugglephotos.com

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

My relationship with Grassroots Collaborative grew organically from my work documenting local grassroots struggles, especially around education justice. I have photographed actions that they have organized or participated in, including the historic march and rally that they helped organize on Day 4 of the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I am a photographer, documenting local struggles mostly related to economics, education, and racial justice. I also document the more personal, sometimes mundane parts of those within my chosen community/family who engage in these struggles (that would be the “love” part of Love + Struggle Photos).

 My primary motivation for doing this work is the desire to create a more just world in which I can live in community with others based on loving, healing relationships. I have been fortunate to meet so many people in Chicago who share this vision, and many of them are deeply embedded in the everyday struggle to make the phrase “Another World Is Possible” a reality – whether it is fighting for quality schools for all children, demanding a trauma center on the South Side, interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline, challenging gender-based violence, providing an intersectional lens to queer/trans issues, or creating avenues of healing through restorative and transformative justice-based community accountability. Their stories have taught me that love and struggle are interdependent in many ways, and that there is beauty and meaning in this dynamic.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

Some concepts I would be interested in exploring with other artists are:

Art as community struggle

The relationship between art and the commons in the context of settler-colonialism and in a deeply segregated city like Chicago

How can we center those who have been historically marginalized without tokenizing?

How can transformative justice be incorporated into our praxis as artists? 

What do we want to build, and what do we want to dismantle?


Veronica Morris-Moore & Darrius Lightfoot

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

I got involved with FLY in 2010 after the death of our cofounding member Damian Turner. I was amazed by the impact Damian’s work had on his community. His leadership inspired young people to continue the movement work that he was so passionately dedicated to. Weeks after his passing FLY launched the Trauma Center Campaign. Hundreds of victims of trauma have to travel too many miles north when injured on the South Side. FLY is demanding that the University of Chicago reopen its level 1 Trauma Center and provide trauma care to the violence plagued South Side of the city.

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I am a writer. I create poetry and rhymes that tell my story and others that I can relate to. I am inspired by my peers and motivated by my beliefs that are rooted in justice. I am supported by elders that encourage my visions of a healthy black community for young black people to grow in. 

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

I think too often the voices of young artists are misunderstood by adults even within the artistic community. I think there should be more intentional intergenerational spaces that provide opportunities for young people and elders to build together.


Dorothy Burge

www.cincymuseum.org

Why did you get involved with the nominating organization and what kind of work do you do with them?

In my family we always had a strong sense of community. We had a strong sense that you should give back to community, too. My undergraduate degree is actually in art, and so I always did art. I really decided that I was going to start focusing on social justice art.  I come from a family of people that make art.  Even when we were little, if you got bored, my mother would say, “Go sit down some place and draw something.”

What kind of art do you make? and What drives your work?

I’m a self-taught quilter. But when I started to quilt, I said, “I’m just not going to create traditional quilts.” I need to do something that’s important to me. And to me, quilting is a way to get your message to a different audience that wouldn’t necessarily see it. Moreover, quilting came to America as an African tradition – brought here during the Middle Passage. We were allowed, as African people, to make our quilts in this country, and because of that, it has been passed down through the generations. While we know about the Underground Railroad quilts, I am also particularly interested in the tradition in African Quilting that preserves family histories.  

What do you think an Artists’ Congress should grapple with in Chicago in 2014?

This program recognizes and calls attention to the fact that artists can “do” something with their work by raising awareness of issues illustrated in their images/work,