ALEXANDRIA EREGBU | ARTIST - EDUCATOR - CURATOR | CHICAGO
Alexandria and I first met during the summer of 2009 in a Facebook group created for our incoming freshman class at SAIC. In hopes of securing a relatively sane stranger to live in a dorm room with for the next year we shyly asked each other to become roommates. Before I knew it we were navigating a new city together, pulling all nighters to Lauryn Hill, talking (and sometimes crying) through our art processes, and forever challenging each other to work harder and strive for more. Alexandria was and still is a force to be reckoned with. I watched as she found her artistic voice and have stood in amazement of her dedication and hard work ever since.
As an interdisciplinary artist Alexandria's work often takes shape in the form of performance, programming, and curatorial practices. Her concerns frequently address community, materiality, performativity, and public vs. institutionalized visibility of racialized and gendered bodies in space. She was a recipient of the Propeller Fund Grant in 2013, was a Resident Curator with HATCH Projects at Chicago Artists Coalition last year, and is currently Public Studio Artist in Residence at the Chicago Cultural Center. I visited Alexandria in her studio last week where we ate a lot of dark chocolate , talked about her current practice, upcoming travel plans, and our mutual thoughts on learning the business side of art. Read on for the full interview and studio tour:
Can you talk a little bit about your background as an artist/educator/curator and how you navigate between each role.
From the beginning I've always taken an avid interest and curiosity in many things. My art practice has always involved a fascination with the body in space and materials. More specifically I think a lot about how the history and attributes of materials contribute to the visibility of gendered and racialized bodies in time and space. I love bringing shiny textures and fabrics into the studio. Glitter, gold, rhinestones, mirror, and embellishments are honestly really hard for me to turn away from. I've only recently realized this about myself but the history of people and things is actually really important to my work. It's what's led me into my role as an educator, a curator, and programmer. I'm always excited by an opportunity to learn more about my surroundings, my community, and am constantly working to create platforms for creatives, thinkers, and artists alike to showcase what they do. Sometimes it has everything to do with the work I make as an artist, and sometimes it doesn't. In any case, I like to think that these different endeavors inform my practice as a maker.
Can you talk a little bit about The Finding Ijeoma Project and your decision to open your Chicago Cultural Center studio space up to the community?
Everyone has a story to tell. Before I received the residency at the Chicago Cultural Center, I had taken a some time away from the studio for about a year. During this break, I focused on my curatorial skills and navigated my attention towards working with other artists. When the DCASE Public Artist Studio Residency opportunity came up, I was interested in using the studio space as location to foster collectivity. The Finding Ijeoma Project is an ongoing project that explores a series of collaborative histories through performances, re-imaginations,and collective narrative building. The Igbo name ‘Ijeoma’ which translates as ‘safe journey’ was the middle name my father gave to me. It reflects my personal investigation of my Nigerian ancestry and attempt to access such content via my arts practice.
What does your current artistic process look like?
How does collaboration play a role in what you create?
I know I've stated this already, but I really do absorb so much from my peers and value their input as thinkers and makers. I believe in comradery and feel that it's essential to surviving as an artist in today's world. I'm still growing and learning about what works best for me in terms of partnerships and collaborations, but to put things simply, I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for some very profound collaborations that have worked their way into my life.
How does living in Chicago influence your work or creativity?
You know, I've been calling Chicago an incubator city for a few months now. It's like the mama who always took care of you, but eventually you know you have to leave. I have some serious history here in Chicago. My family has been here for over 50 years. My roots as a child and early adult are here. So much of my love and passion for what I do and what I hope to create has started here, and for that, Chicago will always be home.
What are the biggest creative/professional challenges you've come across in the last year?
Even though I've gotten better at this, I'm still learning how to say no and turn away from opportunities that don't support my vision or nurture my needs as a maker. It's very difficult especially as a young or emerging artist to know where to plant your first seeds, but it's such a crucial lesson to learn. I've probably wasted some time and energy over doing shows, programs, performances, etc that my heart and spirit weren't really into, just for the sake of doing it; for the sake of another bottomless opportunity, with the hope that it'll lead me somewhere. If you point a compass in too many directions without actually following a path, you'll end up lost. Let's just say I'm not trying to end up like that.
We've both talked a lot about the importance of being business savvy as an artist. Can you elaborate on these thoughts?
In art school, people will constantly tell you to go after the gold but they never really teach you what to do with it, once you've got it. You learn how to make work for an exhibition, but you don't learn the art market, or how to loan or insure your work, engage with collectors, or even file your taxes. Regardless of what end of the scale you might be on, the life of an art student is generally still a privileged one, that removes you from battleground and instead, puts you on a sort of playground... And while playgrounds can be super conducive to one's creative practice, at some point, you have to think seriously about how you're going to support yourself in this field. 10% of individuals with art degrees actually become practicing artists. I try to be very transparent with students about protecting themselves financially because your art practice really does become an investment.
Who/What is inspiring you right now?
I'm at a point in my life right now where I'm yearning to see the world beyond what I already know. I've got an itch for traveling so this next year I plan on seeing as much as I can. A lot of what is exciting me at the moment are colorful places with vibrant cultures and communities. I'm thinking a lot about New Orleans, Mexico City, and Lagos. Also London. I've been trying to be better about reading more fiction and more work by international authors.
Five artists the world should be watching out for?
This is a really hard question because to be honest I think I've intentionally surrounded myself by some incredible people and brilliant artists. I'm particularly drawn to folks who in my opinion express full vision. Artists who contribute to something beyond another pretty image. I'm currently thinking about these folks' work a lot (in no particular order):
Rashayla Marie Brown
Five of your favorite places or small businesses in Chicago?
One word: TRAVEL !