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COMING TO THE TABLE: In Conversation with Archivist Skyla Hearn

Archivist Skyla Hearn and SSCAC Public Engagement lead zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal kick off our Women’s Month and 3831/VOICES series to engage in an informal conversation that traverses Skyla Hearn’s archiving practice, their intersecting connections to Black women arts workers and SSCAC, and the influences that help sustain them in their work.

Grab a cup of tea – or wine, and join us! All attendees are welcome to join in on the conversation, so come ready to talk!

ZOOM REGISTRATION: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEsdO2hpjMuHt1HVb7ylERiBrz0xeDi5EoQ



Skyla Hearn is a proud Chicagoan (South Side) by way of Mississippi. As an archivist, liberatory memory and cultural worker Skyla is most concerned with supporting a community’s attempt to understand,  document and share its own history, particularly those aspects that have not been well  recorded. Skyla’s passion and dedication towards the creation, management, preservation and accessibility  of archives, with particular focus on BIPOC LGBTQIA+ collections, ephemeral  materials, knowledge development, and social justice has provided her with unique opportunities to  work with diverse individuals, communities and repositories at various capacities  nationally and internationally.
Skyla is also co-founder of The  Blackivists, a collective of trained Black memory workers who provide expertise on  archiving and preservation practices to communities in the Chicago land area; and the inaugural Manager of Archives for Cook County Government under the  Offices of the President of the Board of Commissioners.
As a legacy keeper, she recently (March 2021) co-edited the zine publication Our Girl Tuesday: An Unfurling for Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs  alongside  Sarah Ross and Tempestt Hazel with an introduction by Mariame Kaba, published by Sojourners for Justice Press.



3831/VOICES is a new program series of conversations and lectures featuring Black artists, scholars, curators, historians, and arts workers that invite our community into their creative practices, research, and conceptual processes, and more! 3831 takes after SSCAC’s exact numerical address in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. Although we recognize ourselves as an iconic historical site for Black artistic and cultural advancement, we continue to evolve as a contemporary hub for new thought practices, creative practices, and innovative frameworks being developed by a diverse array of amazing folks here in our city, and beyond.


Image Courtesy (above): South Side Community Art Center


Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.