2019 has started out much like how I anticipated. Four busy weeks in January and there is no let up in sight! Last month I went on a New Years cabin trip with some friends, teamed up with friends and family to put on a resume building workshop for my community, traveled to the Midwest to drop off some art, and installed and opened a large art exhibition.
Per the title, I obviously want to tell you about the time I spent in Chicago last month.
So, a friend of mine helped me pack a U-Haul full of artwork from the last exhibition curated and we drove it up to Michigan and Chicago: We made a ten hour drive to Kalamazoo, Michigan (luckily avoiding a storm/blizzardy type-thing) where we dropped off majority of the artwork. Some good people hosted us for a night, and then we drove two hours further west to Chicago, IL where we dropped the last bit of the artwork off. We then had some time to kill... 48 hours to be exact.
If you read my initial article posted on this platform [found here], you may remember that I reference my stays in Chicago and how influential they were in my comeuppance in the art and business world thus far. I love Chicago. Spending time out there is important, because it's such an amazing city, home to so much essential history and culture.
The first place we stopped that I’ll mention was the legendary DuSable Museum of African American History. This museum was founded by artist, activist, and institution builder Dr. Margaret Burroughs in 1961 and was named after Jean Baptiste Point DuSable - a Haitian man who founded the permanent settlement of what is now known as Chicago. I visited this museum in 2014, so I was excited to go back and see what they had in store for us this time around.
The first exhibition we saw was entitled: Clearing A Path For Democracy: Citizen Soldiers of the Illinois Fighting 8th. It displayed relics and artworks focused on the contributions of the 8th Infantry Illinois National Guard during WWI, as well as other Black servitude in the military. It made mention of heroes like Chrispus Attuks in the American Revolutionary War and the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII.
There was another exhibition entitled: South Side Stories - a lovely exhibition of permanent collection works by founder Dr. Margaret Burroughs.
They had a very intriguing exhibition about South African politics entitled: Troublemaker. It’s a coincidence because hours before viewing the exhibition I partook in an in-depth conversation with an art professor and historian about South African art and politics. One of the main focuses of the exhibition was to comment on, and bring to light, social issues surrounding the country - especially the positives and negatives of having Nelson Mandela as a figurehead. Included were criticisms of his political actions as well as words of empathy and understanding in reference to his role in the South African government once he was released from jail. [WARNING: some of the work was extremely graphic].
The most fascinating exhibition was on the bottom floor of the museum which they turned into a Black History timeline of sorts. In this exhibition entitled, Freedom, Resistance, and the Journey Toward Equality there were images and videos visualizing the amount of Africans captured and transported to the Americas and the Carribean during the transatlantic slave trade → fast forwarding to documentary-style videos about Booker T. Washington and his contemporaries… video recordings of Fred Hampton and other freedom fighters in the 1960s… And then they moved into an exhibition of over 40 different contemporary current times artists - all works displayed on loan from a group of collectors known as Diasporal Rhythms. This s a Chicago-based group that collect work from artists across the African Diaspora. They called this exhibition, The Love Affair Continues.
The DuSable Museum is definitely a good way to spend an hour or two and it's free! - I mean, we did buyout the gift shop, leaving with jewelry, clothes, books, etc. BUT to get in is free.
After that we went to go get some food and since we were already on the southside, we decided to get some Harold’s Chicken… It’s a cliche but it's true: if you’re in Chicago, you gotta get some Harold’s. It’s not even so much about the food, but more so about the place itself. Don’t get me wrong, the food is on point, but the place itself is like a national landmark - it’s like coming to DC and going to Ben’s Chilli Bowl or going to Philly and going to Max’s for a cheesesteak. For all intents and purposes its a cultural, community hub - everybody in the area goes there. You get a very authentic experience.
Another place we stopped was the South Side Community Arts Center, also on the southside of the city. This place will steal your heart - it is the oldest art institute founded by Black Americans that is still in existence. Founded in 1941 by Dr. Margaret Burroughs (yes, same person, although she founded this place 20 years early when she was only 23 years old). Legendary Black artists including Langston Hughes taught classes there. Charles White frequently exhibited his work there. And in 2017 it was named a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which placed it in a group amongst other National Treasures such as the Grand Canyon, the Washington National Cathedral, Howard University’s Library, and the New York State Pavilion.
The entire building is made up of these charming, wooden, semi-creaky floors. The gallery on the first floor still displays artwork on the original walls, which at this point have like a million small nail holes in them. The gallery also has the original fireplace as well as a piano Langston Hughes played (yes - I’m dropping that stat, because I was in awe). I honestly haven’t been this geeked about visiting an art institute since I went to The Barnes Collection.
In that first floor gallery there was an exhibition called Change the Canvas, Change the World which displayed works from their permanent collection celebrating some of the first artists to ever exhibit work there. These included Charles White, Henry Avery, Leon Savage, and many more. There was amazing art everywhere - in the hallways, in the second floor gallery, in the classroom on the third floor, even in the bathrooms (and I’ve been in some pretty amazing art-filled bathrooms). This was another great FREE place to visit - although we did buyout the gift shop, again.
After we left the art center, we decided to go to this seafood place called Two Fish Crab Shack. Two Fish is a casual sit-down restaurant where you can get a good savory meal; I’m talking crab, lobster, shrimp, catfish… We had to put on gloves in order to eat (LITERALLY). It’s the real deal, and the owner is really cool too. I highly recommend.
The last art-related spot we checked out was the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. Like most contemporary art museums, it felt like walking into the future when you step foot in there... The building has a very sleek look to it - high ceilings, big windows, a cafe... the works.
While there I got to see the infamous Jeff Koons floating basketballs installation (officially titled ‘Three Ball Equilibrium’), a room with walls covered top to bottom in carpet, an aesthetic I have always been a fan of, a backpack three times my size, and a bunch of other extremely fascinating creations made by artists of our time. It was so avant garde it was ridiculous.
Enrico David had a huge mixed media exhibition there as well - I had never heard of him prior to this. His work explores the physical body and contourts it in a way that depicts human emotion. In literal terms the work explores how the human body would look if the emotions we felt on the inside shone through on the outside. The work makes you ask yourself, “what would it look like if our bodies showcased our jealousy, comfort, discombobulation, excitement, anxiety…? Keeping it real, a lot of that sh*t looked vile, but you know when something looks so gross you just can’t look away? That’s what it felt like. Overall, this was a very cool spot and it only costs $8 to get in if you have your student ID *wink wink*.
The last restaurant worth mentioning is my favorite breakfast spot in Chicago called Yolk. They have this red velvet french toast that makes you tear up just thinking about it and that’s honestly the only reason I think it’s so amazing. You can’t find it anywhere else (at least nowhere I can find) and it's totally worth it.
So, after our 48 hours were up, we packed up our suitcases, hopped on a plane, and came back home to the DMV.
I truly enjoy this sort of travel, whether for business or pleasure. Of course travel comes with its own set of stressors, but to me it's worth it. It gives me a break from the norm, I get to explore and see how other people are living… I get to spend some money domestically, come back home with some new inspirations, ideas, and experiences… Again, I especially enjoy Chicago. I haven’t been back since 2016, so it felt really good to return even if it was only for a short time.
Are you planning any domestic travel? If so, where? If you’re planning on visiting Chicago anytime soon let me know - I’d be glad to give you some spots to check out in addition to the ones I mentioned in this post.