Grantee Partner Spotlight: Hyde Park Art Center
By Mark Hallett, Director of Grants Programs
Read Time 10 minutes
November 14, 2023
Hyde Park Art Center, at 5020 South Cornell Avenue on Chicago’s vibrant South Side, is a hub for contemporary arts in Chicago, serving as a gathering, production, and exhibition space for artists and the broader community to cultivate ideas, impact social change, and connect with new networks. Since its inception in 1939, Hyde Park Art Center has grown from a small collective of artists to establishing a strong legacy of risk-taking and experimentation, emerging as a unique Chicago arts institution with social impact.
Hyde Park Art Center received an Action Grant to support the exhibition The Alien‐Nations and Sovereign States of Octavia E Butler by Candace Hunter. Hunter’s largest exhibition to date, The Alien-Nations presents a series of assemblage-based works, installations, video, and sound works that illustrate the meticulously constructed worlds Octavia Butler imagined in her novels, examining their significance for Black bodies and future societies. The exhibition is co‐curated by the Hyde Park Art Center’s Public Programs Manager Ciera Alyse McKissick and Director of Exhibition & Residency Programs Allison Peters Quinn.
The Alien‐Nations and Sovereign States of Octavia E Butler can be experienced at the Hyde Park Art Center from November 11, 2023, through March 3, 2024.
Read more about the exhibition and Candace Hunter in this Q&A.
A Q&A with Candace Hunter
Hyde Park Art Center teaching artist and artist in residence
Q: How do you see the arts, culture, and the humanities as being essential?
I can't imagine the world, especially my world, without a sense of understanding culture, meaning to me, an understanding of humanity. If we lose those very humane parts of ourselves, then we are left in a void. I come from a family where the arts and the humanities were very important, very strong and I remember as a child other children near us asking “Why does your mother make you guys go to museums” and I said “Make? Oh no, we love going to museums.”
As a child I had my favorite place at The Field Museum that I thought was my personal space. I had a place at The Art Institute of Chicago that I thought was my personal space, a place I could go and sit and feel at home. I felt an ownership over Chicago’s cultural institutions as a child and that has continued into my adulthood. When I have the opportunity to work with young people I always try to bring them along, physically and emotionally, into an understanding of something that is bigger than their block. Something that opens up their eyes and their hearts to something more.
What is the most important thing people should know about your work?
Most of my work continually stems from my upbringing and the things I loved as a teen, as a young person, as a young adult and that hasn’t changed. I discovered the work of writer Octavia E. Butler when I was in college and that love has only grown over the years. When I find out that people don't know her work, I am literally aghast.
I introduce her work to them and start to talk about more than the obvious (the things that are on the surface of the writing) because if one really spends time with Octavia E. Butler’s writing you’ll understand that she was an incredibly intuitive, incredibly erudite human whose understanding of the larger world was greater than the average bear.
Butler takes those moments, those trials and tribulations of being human and places them in an otherworldly kind of way that looks like it's just science fiction but it's really very political, it’s historical. It brings a love of history, it brings a love of social sciences – I try to get people to look at all the different layers of her work.
How did you arrive at doing what you do?
At the moment I’m preparing for my largest solo exhibition to date, The Alien‐Nations and Sovereign States of Octavia E Butler, which will take place at The Hyde Park Art Center which opens mid-November of this year. It’s a very exciting show for me because I’ve never worked like this before. For the first time I’m including sculpture, film, photo transfer collage work, and lots of collaborators, I’ve never worked with so many people before. I’ve been alone in my studio making a painting or making a collage all by myself. This time I’m getting to hold hands with all sorts of incredible people to make this come to life.
The exhibition will explore ideas from Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Xenogenesis Trilogy (Lilith’s Brood). With me and Octavia, it’s a partnership. I wish that I had the opportunity to have met her when she was living but I know a lot of people who did have that extreme pleasure because she came to Chicago as a guest of the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Writers' Conference that’s held at Chicago State University every fall. I’ve met a lot of people who were able to meet her through the conference and spend time at her knee so to speak and became friendly with a woman who became like her daughter, Tananarive Due.
Between writers like Tananarive and Sandra Jackson-Opoku, who is here in Chicago, I feel like I had a little bit of an opportunity to know her, to be with her. This show is such a departure for me and how I’m thinking about her work because in the past when I’ve done work it’s been very literal (based on her writing) and this show has allowed me to investigate more and really compare some of her worlds together.
Who makes your work possible?
First of all, I always have to say my mother, Dr. Mae M. Hunter, who has taught in the Hyde Park Area for 30 years and has taught more young people in Hyde Park than any other teacher I know. She was a rockstar in her community. Beyond my mom, my partner Arthur Wright, and my daughter, Aiesha Wright. Aiesha is playing such a big part in this – she became my still photographer and my actress for the film along with many other support roles. Arthur does all the heavy lifting, all the things I can’t carry in here, he does.
Beyond that immediate thing of my family, the Hyde Park Art Center is just a joyful place to be in and to work with. The people who are here at the Art Center, they make the impossible possible.
Faie Afrikan Art, because I don't have to go all the way downtown to see incredible museum-quality African art. I can go sit in Faie and look at a Chokwe mask, start sketching, and know that that’s going to be part of this as well. I remember in Star Wars in the intergalactic bar there were all of these alien oddities in there, same-same with Star Trek. I began to notice that every time there was a film about the future and aliens, the aliens always looked rather familiar to me. Everytime I would see them, even though I wasn't necessarily seeing black actors I’d think …Do you know you stole that from ancient Mali? Do you know that neckwear is from the Chokwe? Do you know that you’ve taken Fulani women’s hairstyles? Science fiction developers always look back to ancient Africa to make the future. I kept thinking…is nobody seeing this but me? So when I need a refresher to feel what the past/future/present is, I go and I sit in Faie with the gallerist Faye Edwards, and she always has something new for me to look at – it’s a jewel on the South Side.
There’s so many other entities that have made this show possible. First, I have to thank the 3Arts organization, you’re never going to meet a better organization in your life. I was a 3Arts winner in 2016 with William Estrada who has a show at The Hyde Park Art Center right now*. Two years ago I became a Next Level / Spare Room awardee and this year they ran a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign for me – I stay part of that family. Cheers up, hands up, all the time for them.
This year, I was also awarded a DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events) grant to make this show possible. I’d also like to thank The Helen Coburn Meier and Tim Meier Charitable Foundation for an award that made it possible for me to keep working throughout the pandemic.
During the pandemic, The Hyde Park Art Center and Little Black Pearl gave me the grace of space to work in and the Meier Foundation gave me the funds that allowed me to keep working.
*William Estrada's show Multiples and Multitudes at the Hyde Park Art Center closed on October 28, 2023.
About Hyde Park Art Center
Founded in 1939, Hyde Park Art Center’s mission is to stimulate and sustain the visual arts in Chicago by nurturing tomorrow's artists while advancing today's. Hyde Park Art Center is a hub for contemporary art in Chicago, serving as a gathering and production space for artists and the broader community to cultivate ideas, impact social change, and connect with new networks.
Hyde Park Art Center has three major departments: Exhibitions, Residency, and Arts Education. These departments work programmatically in tandem, with residents taking and teaching classes and ultimately exhibiting their work at the Art Center. Hyde Park Art Center’s public programming serves as a hub of exploration, relevant conversations, and ideas for people of all communities and ages.
Free and open to the public 7 days a week, Hyde Park Art Center serves 45,000 artists, collectors, neighbors, and youth annually. The Art Center offers a diverse suite of programs for artists and art lovers of all backgrounds, ages, and stages in their careers.
About Candace Hunter
Candace Hunter, a Chicago-based artist, has progressed through each step in the Hyde Park Art Center's cycle: from classtaker, to teacher, to resident artist, and now to exhibiting artist. She creates collages, paintings, installations, and performance art. Plainly, she tells stories. Through the use of appropriated materials from magazines, vintage maps, cloth, and various re-used materials, she offers this new landscape of materials back to the viewer with a glimpse of history and admiration of the beautiful.
Candace Hunter's Suggested Readings:
If you’re a newbie to Octavia E. Butler I’m going to suggest that you start with Kindred and then move on from there. Kindred’s an easy book to read, it’s American History so there’s a familiarity.
From there, move to what’s my favorite, Wild Seed, which is just kind of amazing. You find two characters in Wild Seed, one is a shapeshifter and one is a body snatcher and they’re both immortal. They find each other and it becomes this love-hate thing…it’s like okay, we’re both here forever so I guess we’ve got to somehow forge something. Two amazing characters that she constructed in Wild Seed. That has nothing to do with the show, nothing whatsoever – however it’s an amazing book, it’s an amazing ride.
About the Grantee Partner Spotlight Series
Illinois Humanities highlights the work of our Grants partners through our monthly Grantee Partner Spotlight. It shines a light on our grantee partners' work and allows readers to get to know them better through a Q&A with members of the organization. Read more by browsing the "Grantee Partner Spotlight" series here.