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The New School: QTPOC Pathways

July 8, 2023 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Join us for a panel discussion navigating the shift in the representation of Black gay/queer/trans/non-binary identities in Chicago from the 1980s to today.



In the 80s, the heat of bodies could be felt throughout downtown Chicago from the clubs to the streets. Passersby called out to each other and occasionally locked eyes holding a knowing sultry gaze. Black men of all ages, fluid in their sexual preferences, crowded the South Loop bars and warehouse raves. As the photographer Patric McCoy moved through the streets and crowded venues, he candidly captured Black men the way they wished to be seen in their spectrum of identities, countering mass media narratives. These photographs, now on view at Wrightwood 659 in Patric McCoy: Take My Picture, document an essential view of an underground culture that has since grown and transformed over the past 40 years.

Moderated by Patric McCoy, “The New School: QTPOC Pathways” features contemporary voices from the arts community, including Jared Brown, an interdisciplinary artist who uses fragments of Black subcultures to investigate the history and the digital space; LaMar Gayles, an archaeologist and curator with a special focus on the work of artist Berry Horton and the Black queer arts communities in Chicago; and Najee-Zaid Searcy, an educator and artist who employs strategies of collaboration and organizing to create safe QTPOC spaces.




Najee-Zaid Searcy (any pronouns with respect) is an interdisciplinary artist rooted in Chicago, IL, originally home to the Council of Three Fires. Najee-Zaid designs, sustains, and transitions spaces for LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC beings through performance art, facilitation, respite, and music. Najee-Zaid is a co-founder of the Queering the Parks Initiative (Chicago Park District) and the Otherhood Collective. They debuted their EP and performance artwork both titled “Immersion” at the Elastic Arts Foundation in 2022 and will further showcase their project through the 2023/2024 season.
Learn more at najeezaidsearcy.com



LaMar R. Gayles Jr. (a native son of the South Side of Chicago) is an archaeologist, independent curator, material culture scholar, and technical art historian. He is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Art Conservation and Preservation Studies at the University of Delaware. Gayles is a 2021 graduate from the University of Illinois Chicago’s Museum and Exhibition Studies (MUSE) masters program and a 2019 BA (Cum Laude) graduate from St. Olaf College with a triple major in Art History, Ethnic Studies, and Ethno-Aesthetics & Archaeological Materiality. He has researched and curated exhibitions on Black American material culture and its historical progressions from the seventeenth century to the twenty-first century.
One of Gayles’s most recent exhibitions was the 2021 exhibition Divine Legacies in Black Jewelry at the National Museum of Ornamental Metals. Gayles’s most recent curatorial project was the 2022 Terra Foundation of American Art funded co-curated exhibition Emergence: Intersections at the Center which explored the trajectories and complex interwoven legacies of the South Side Community Art Center and Chicago LGBTQ+ communities. Gayles’s personal research methodology combines archaeometry, arts-based research, conservation science, art historical analysis, ethnography, historical reproduction, and technical studies to explore material and visual culture.



Jared Brown is an interdisciplinary artist born in Chicago. In past work, Jared broadcasted audio and text-based work through the radio (CENTRAL AIR RADIO, 88.5 FM), in live DJ sets, and on social media. They consider themselves a data thief, understanding this role from John Akomfrah’s description of the data thief as a figure that does not belong to the past or present. As a data thief, Jared Brown makes archeological digs for fragments of Black American subculture, history, and technology. Jared repurposes these fragments in audio, text, and video to investigate the relationship between history and digital, immaterial space. Jared Brown holds a BFA in video from the Maryland Institute College of Art and moved back to Chicago in 2016 in order to make and share work that directly relates to their personal history.


July 8, 2023
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
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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.