The South Side Chicago Arts Center (SSCAC) has long been a place of exhibition, incubation and connection to African American art and artists through educational and artistic programs, exhibitions, talks, tours, and more. Founded in 1940, the SSCAC is a Chicago historic landmark and is the oldest African American art center in the U.S., featuring works from some of its founding members alongside new commissions by up-and-coming artists. Unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, the center is closed to the public and is only open for limited public engagements. But that does not mean that the SSCAC is forgotten.
This Summer, material artist Faheem Majeed and The Seldoms dance company partner with the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) to pay tribute to the SSCAC by presenting a collaborative new work, titled “Push Pull”, featuring choreography by Carrie Hanson. The sole dancer is Damon Green; the setting is against, on and around a monumental 34’x42’ graphite rubbing of the SSCAC’s outer exterior wall. The work will be performed in the HPAC’s spacious Gallery 1—a large, vacuous room with retractable garage doors that expose the space to open air—and is part of Majeed’s exhibition, “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Shrouds,” that serves to honor the legacy of the SSCAC. There are two ways to watch: You can catch two live performances, on June 10 at 6pm and June 12 at 2pm. There is also a video of “Push Pull” being projected in the gallery on a loop from 3-10 p.m. through July 24. Advance registration is required and is available through the HPAC website.
Majeed has a strong connection to the SSCAC, having previously served as its executive director over a six-year period. The job was not always easy for Majeed, who created a work titled “Piano Push”—a 10-minute video of Majeed pushing a piano across the length of the SSCAC gallery wearing a suit—in response to a disgruntled email he received expressing disapproval regarding Majeed’s wearing of casual attire while at the center, even on his days off. Now, that suit will be worn by dancer Green as he moves throughout the gallery space while towing and manipulating a large piece of fabric. Both costume and canvas serve as metaphors for Majeed’s sometimes bittersweet feelings of being pulled in all directions during his tenure at SSCAC while also feeling motivated to push forward for progress.
Carrie Hanson—choreographer and founding artistic director of The Seldoms—first collaborated with Majeed in 2017 on “The Making,” which also featured 80-foot fabric panels painted using modified bicycles and bike parts.
“Back in 2017 when we first collaborated and were working with that large fabric, [Majeed] got excited by the way that the dancers were standing on it,” said Hanson. “We were bundling it, we were pushing and pulling it, we were twisting it…we were really activating and manipulating what he thought of as an artwork. But that’s what’s interesting about Faheem, that he’s not precious about stuff.”
Working with large fabric props might appear cumbersome, but Hanson surprises with her ingenuity and explorative spirit by letting the work inform and inspire her choreography. In “Push Pull,” Hanson embraces the dichotomy of being an artist while having to suffer the monotony of also being an administrator. The work seeks to communicate this duality in the way that Green manipulates and envelops himself in the tapestry.
“We want to further embed that material with information,” said Hanson regarding what dance can add to the tangible cloth. “The way Damon is folding it or is pulling it taught over his shoulder and showing us the weight of it and his familiarity of it—it’s the same path day in and day out, whether it’s cleaning the toilets, or writing a grant, or, for me, mopping the floors of the dance studio.” No one said that being an artist-producer was easy. In “Push Pull,” that sentiment actualizes right before our eyes.
While driving South down Michigan Ave., you might miss the SSCAC if not for the long, white track board and bold, black letters that displays the institution’s name above the entryway of an unassuming brownstone. This modest structure has been both a home and a hub for aspiring and established African American artists and now, from the mouth of the wide-open garage door that frames the exhibit, you too can become more familiar with the South Side’s rich artistic history. This new collaborative exhibition of dance and design aims to ensure that the image and legacy of the SSCAC is bold—and unmissable.
“Push Pull” will be presented on June 10 at 6pm and June 12 at 2pm in Gallery 1 at the Hyde Park Arts Center, 5020 South Cornell Ave. The full exhibit, “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden: Shrouds,” runs until July 24. Tickets are free and advance registration is required. For more information, click the event page below.