Beginning today, October 25, the planets will align over the course of several weeks at the Leroy Neiman Center at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC.)
“Nigredo Blaq Space” is an immersive artistic project organized by artist Kush James in conjunction with numerous South and West Side artists and SAIC affinity group Da South Side. The three events will blend music, theater, the work of MC’s, and rich visuals in an interstellar context to create a multimedia “rites of passage through the discovery of the ‘Re’ of Black and Brown people.” According to the event’s Engage listing, the “Re” refers to the “rediscovery, reinvention, and reclaiming of one’s identity.”
“People often feel their identity is erased here [at school],” James said, who dedicates much of her practice to creating visibility for Black and Brown artists underrepresented in SAIC and beyond.
“We don’t want to overpower other people; we just want to be heard,” she said. The next event is November 1; the last gathering, structured as an informational session, is November 8. All events begin at 4:30 in the same location.
For James, 26, the vastness of space seems appropriate in scale when apprehending Black identity. In creating such a literal space, she said she’s able to use her art to approach the process in a constructive way.
“I have anger issues,” said James. “This country lynched my ancestors. I got in a situation at one point where [expressing my anger] could’ve gotten kicked out. But now I’m channeling my anger. I’m using it in my art.”
James says the interstellar theme in the Nigredo Blaq Space events will depict galaxies within a universe “made up of both good and bad qualities of life … to help reestablish the power and royalty of Black and Brown people.”
The South Side Less Traveled
James grew up in neighborhoods all across Chicago’s South Side and sees so much opportunity for educating people about the all-too-frequently dismissed or ignored cultural heritage of the area.
“In Bronzeville, the culture is so rich,” James said. “It’s amazing, everything that happens there and people don’t know about any of it here [at SAIC] or ‘out there.’”
James had many suggestions to offer for those who want to explore the area, including the South Shore Cultural Center (7059 S. South Shore Dr.), a sweeping, historic cultural facility built in 1908 now maintained by the Chicago Park District.
“Hunter’s Gallery is amazing, too,” James said. “So many dope artists are exhibiting work there — painting, sculpture, all kinds of things. There’s a band I work with who’s doing stuff at the Hunter, too, and there are open mics like Lyric Lagoon on Tuesday nights; they work with youth a lot. That’s often overlooked — what young people are doing on the South Side. Older people think younger people aren’t doing stuff. I want to shine a light on my work and what my peers are doing.”
The SAIC affinity group James heads up, Da South Side, is a way to do just that.
“[With Da South Side], I wanted to help SAIC and the South Side interact, to bridge the gap between the artists from here and artists working down there. There’s friction sometimes between Black people in the fine arts community and artists that are working in the hood.”
It’s not just cultural events and spaces that James encourages people beyond the South Side to investigate and connect with. Effective protesting and social reform is happening there, too. Two years ago, relentless protesting by Fearless Leading by Youth (FLY) lead to the construction of the South Side Trauma Center.
“FLY is responsible for getting the trauma center put up, 100 percent,” James said. “That’s all them, they did that.”
James also pointed to a learning initiative for young black inventors organized by South side non-profit the Chicago Inventors Club. Recent project included helping kids modify a standard bicycle into a motorized one. The next version will be solar-powered.
“I also want to shine a light on the great things The BlackMall is doing for the Black community on the South Side,” James said. “The BlackMall is a hub for Black-owned businesses and products to [help them] get sold. The BlackMall also hosts events like the Juneteenth celebration, which is the day my Ancestors were free from bondage in America.”
James encourages others to expand their horizons, she’s constantly learning more about her geographic area, too.
“South Chicago, like way south and east, that was the first true Latino neighborhood in the city. I didn’t know that. But I’m always trying to learn more.”
Entering Deep ‘Blaq’ Space
The first Nigredo Blaq Space “mini experience” takes place this evening from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Leroy Neiman Center. The first planet to be celebrated and explored, James said, is the planet “Loudility.”
“Loudility is the planet of noise,” the event’s description reads. “In this planet, people will be able to make sounds through the outline of the structures, they will engage with the band, and interact with the oracle and two other mortal spirits.”
Next week, the planet “Ignoress” will be investigated. As the description reads: “In this planet, people will be able to absorb the energy of not giving a fuck, battle rap with three to five mortal spirits, and view two to three dancers moving in the space.”
If space is the final frontier, James’s “Nigredo Blaq Space” sounds pretty good.
If you’re not currently an SAIC student, click here for tickets. For SAIC students with ID, simply head over to the Leroy Neiman Center on the ground floor of Sharp.