On Turning 43: Museums & Movies

Disclaimer: Cos we’re Black in these america’s, the 4th day of July will never be Independence Day.

Proclamation: July 4th fireworks are in MY honor! lol lol lol

My mama went into labor a lil after 7pm on the 4th; she thought the discomfort she was experiencing was indigestion. All day she’d gone from house-to-house, making her rounds in the neighborhood, eating up everything. And of course, she had her favorites, watermelon and homemade ice cream.

43 years later.

With my cell phone powered off—I was on an electronics and social media hiatus—when the fireworks began, I dusted off my Canon Power Shot and charged the battery while reviewing my plans for my tomorrow, July 5, my born day. Who knew that one of the funniest things would be me mistakenly touching the screen of the camera, forgetting that it was not my touchscreen camera phone.

A few years back I invited a friend to co-curate “She be . Black . Arts . Movement . Summer Series.” This series, for Black womyn, was meant to engage public spaces, be artsy, explore Chicago and most importantly chill out, not veg out. It was adult field trips that took sista-circles out into the world. I really enjoyed curating this series—it also helped me to reconnect artistically and to explore Chicago. This city…full of politricks, over-taxation and segregation is also full of life, beauty, passion, possibility, endurance and hope.

To this end, I’m always down for being a tourist in my own town, yet the hustle and bustle of everyday life doesn’t always permit. But it was my day, my bearthday so I’d planned my own fieldtrip with the theme: “Museums & Movies.” Also, I wanted to “see” and capture messages from the Universe.

July 5, 2017

1st stop: Wishbone.

To succeed in life you need 3 Things: Wishbone, Backbone & Funny Bone

It was too early for a specially made hot fudge, birthday ice cream sandwich, but I appreciate the happy birthday serenade and tha other diners chiming in.


2nd stop: AIC, Art Institute of Chicago.

I digress: The Uber ride to AIC was blackity-black. Elder Uber-driver rolls up with tha blues bumping, windows down, top open and air conditioning blasting. His steering wheel spinner knobs and bedazzled decal, a pink heart with angel wings, on the dashboard caught my attention. He gets out and opens the door for us and makes sure we’re in.

And then, the performance…the concert begins.

Pops gets to snapping his fingers, shaking his shoulders and singing along, asking us, “What you know ‘bout the blues?”

Just a little spoon of your precious love

Satisfy my soul

“Spoonful” lyrics

Clearly, he didn’t know who he was talkin’ to. Of course I knew Howlin’ Wolf.

Pop says, “If you don’t like tha blues, you will after this ride.” He sings some more and sinks further into the driver’s seat. He drives. We chill. And the elder announces, “We must love ourselves.” He professes that he often takes himself out on dates.

He pushes next on his playlist, skipping to, Bobbly Blue Bland and sharing: “Yah’ll my last pickup cos after listening to this here good music, I’m going to the beach and do me.”

The beat drops for the next song and the driver gives out an affirming shout while belting out Buddy Guy’s “You damn right, I’ve got the blues.” He acted out the “from my head down to my shoes,” part. Before that song ended he skipped to BB King’s,“Don’t Answer The Door.”

Pops kept dropping gems between embodying heartfelt lyrics. Right before we reached the museum he declared, “Uber musta been a great big pimp, cos this Uber thing is some pimp shit. I’m my own boss.”

I absolutely loved this dude, so full of life. So full of soul.

At AIC we enter and I sit on the bench to pull out my cheat sheet having already mapped out our visit. Cheat sheet out, a Latina sista approaches me all smiles, “I know you…”

She doesn’t let me respond and she continues: “I was just looking at you in the magazine.”


“Aren’t you Priscilla (Polly) Marinho?” She pulls up a picture of Priscilla on her phone.

Our cheeks match. Yes, Polly and I favor.

Even once we establish it’s not me, sis is still excited.

2nd floor to Regenstein Hall to see special exhibit, Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist.

“With the no formal training, he learned from his contemporaries, but he also questioned the uniformity of their style and the limitations imposed by their narrow definition of “fine art,” which did not include craft objects such as furniture. He was a radically creative outsider.” Exhibition Description/Artist Statement

An artist after my heart, a rebel he was. He called his sculptures “monstrosities” because of their “unrefined aesthetics.” He was also a traveler, he traveled throughout the French colonies and when he got to Tahiti he was irked that colonization had robbed natives of their culture. He complained that he couldn’t get a real feel of the people pre-colonization, so he painted what he imagined the culture to be prior to French invasion.

Um kay Gauguin, that’s how this colonization thing works, imposition.

This is the contention I have with wanting to enjoy such artist but I can’t unknow history, because at the end of the day, he was still painting with his intended audience, privileged Parisians. Nonetheless, the appreciation of his artistry is coupled with reading in-between the lines.

For instance the painting of Tehamana, Gaughin’s alleged Tahitian “lover…” *pause* “Lover…” I guess the curator was using the word very loosely. My assumption is that likely she had no choice in the matter.

That’s like saying that enslaved African womyn were massas “lovers.” Fuq outta here with this revisionist history and coded language. As Britni Danielle’s said in her piece referring to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, “Language like that [mistress] elides the true nature of their relationship, which is believed to have begun when Hemings, then 14 years old, accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson, then 44, in Paris. She wasn’t Jefferson’s mistress; she was his property. And he raped her.”

Of course, I was drawn to his work with melinated people: Panama, Martinique and Tahiti. As an artist, he was focused on capturing the details of his subjects “inner life.”

Enough of Gauguin, it was time to make our way to the soul. On the way to Gallery 124, at the front end of the building, we stopped by contemporary new art and went to the lower level to see photography and the miniatures. Finally, tucked away on the other side of selected drawing by Saul Steinberg, there it was, sistagirl Cauleen Smith’s, Human_3.0 Reading List. I had to stop, take a breath and slowly proceed to take in each of the 57 drawings—on 8½ × 12- inch graph paper in watercolor over graphite, occasionally elaborated with acrylic.

In this series, Smith drew book covers. Not just any book covers, but covers of books I’ve read and reread, or need to read. Science fiction. Black Diaspora. Feminism. Gender. A reimagining of the world. From the margins to the center.

It was like being in my personal library because I own many of the books. This exhibit is a combo of some of my creative loves: reading, writing and visual art. Walking from drawing to drawing I thought about the content of the book represented in each cover. Books that have informed my thinking, challenged it…some material I agree with, other material I do not. My imagination kicked in and I was suddenly in a room full of people and I’m sashaying around a room selling books and pages are raining upon us and I’m saying to my guests in my greatest thespian voice, “Read. Read. Read.” I tickled myself because my voice became that of Dave Chappelle in a Rick James parody, “Read bishes…Read.” Lol lol lol.

Context: “An artist whose primary discipline is film, Smith has incorporated various influences and references in this visual booklist. Newspapers, magazines, and websites frequently offer lists: the 10 best new restaurants, the 50 top places to see in the world, the 100 best movies of all time. Cauleen Smith has created another kind of list, a new canon of humanistic literacy presented as a series of drawings. She engages with the idea of a collective consciousness through manually drawn renderings of book covers. Harriet Tubman, C. L. R. James, and bell hooks find their place alongside Starfish, Sea Urchins, and Their Kin by Nelson Herwig. Together the drawings ask challenging questions: Have you read these books? Will you read these books? What will they mean to you? What do they mean to us now? Which titles might be missing?” Exhibition Description.

I spent time with each drawing and I liked that on some there was a Black thumb or finger. This appearance was to make it clear that we are cultural workers, not merely the keeper of the culture. Black folks read. Black folks write. The personal is political. Black and literate. Yaaaaas!

“Grounded in a sober assessment of race relations and institutional power structures, Human_3.0 Reading List calls its viewers to prepare for social change through self-empowered education. In the final words of the manifesto accompanying the series, Smith exhorts her audience: Love. Resist. Read on. Right on.” Exhibition Description.


3rd stop: Echt Gallery.

I have a love affair with glass art. I was introduced to Dale Chihuly’s glass work some years ago when I was at Philly’s National Liberty Museum, and at one of my other favorite spots in Chicago, Garfield Park Conservatory, “Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass.” Since then I’ve been hooked on exploring glass art.

I found this gallery online. “Echt Gallery is dedicated to providing leadership in the education of studio glass…” We get up to the door and it’s a sign, awwwww man! They were closed. I was disappointed but appreciated the guy who came to the door and invited us to return next week, when they’ll be completely moved in, two doors down. I just smiled for this pause in my day. I was receptive. Right across from Echt was a small restaurant, Brett’s Kitchen, a hallway restaurant as I call it, long and slender. A bite to eat and cold drink.


4th stop: DePaul Art Museum.

I think this museum gets slept on, but it always features really cool artists and exhibits. I was looking forward to both featured exhibits, Girl Power.

So, you ever walk in a gallery and it feels like home—like all the pieces need to be in your living room for you to spend time with everyday while sipping tea?  Also, ever want white walls and gallery lighting? I was sold on Firelei Báez’s, Vessels of Genealogies.

Hair hair hair. I loved the pieces with the fullness of hair. Báez, a Dominican artist of the African Diaspora. When she was on residency in NOLA she created a series around the Tignon Law of 1786—this law required women of African descent to cover their hair. Some of those pieces are featured in this DePaul exhibit. Báez created large-scaled portraits with African-featured faces that come out of patterns, colors, symbols and objects of resistance ie. hair picks, snakes and broken chains.

I was captured by the vibrancy of her work and the subjects African features, the beauty of their eyes/nose/lips.

There was another piece where she addressed colorism and the brown paper bag test. I sat with that one for a minute.

Hương Ngô: To Name It is to See was the other featured exhibit. This is an interdisciplinary exhibit of resistance and performance.

“Hương Ngô engages with the French government’s surveillance archives of Vietnamese anticolonial organizer Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai (1910-1941).”

5th stop: Starbucks

Now for a movie. Since we spent a little longer at each museum than expected, we were only going to see 1 movie. Off to Landmark Century we went. Early for the movie I wanted to get my complimentary bearthday drink from The Bucky’s aka Starbucks. Shoutout to Bucky’s for having coconut milk.


6th stop: Landmark Century Theatre

Movie popcorn, aint nothing like it.

Movie: The Big Sick. If I had to sum it up in one short phrase I’d say, “Love wins.” Since I was planning on seeing two movies, I was torn in choosing one, but I went with the romantic comedy. I’ll go see Beatriz at Dinner before it leaves.

The Big Sick wasn’t heavy, but it wasn’t without depth either. Kumail, a Pakistani American aspiring comedian who drives for Uber, is torn between cultural/religious traditions and a white girl he’s fallen in love with. The white girl gets deathly ill and suddenly he has to deal with her parents, Holly Hunter and Ray Romona. Great casting and they were believable.

Moral: We can love our family, but not necessarily align with our family’s cultural or religious traditions. Also, the importance of communication in relationships—lying by omission can be a slippery slope. In the end however, love wins!


7th stop: El Nuevo

Walking to the restaurant, flowers caught my attention. #Grow.

My bearthday, dinner at El Nuevo.

Guacamole always wins!!!!

This Mexican restaurant has, out front, indoor and back patio seating. I chose this spot not only because it’s close to the movie theatre, but it also has vegan/

vegetarian dishes. Yummy yummy Chiles Relleno Vegano, minus the fake cheese, with quinoa and a spring salad. Good stuff. The poblano peppers were perfectly stuffed wit dat good-good—all very fresh and plated beautifully. Also, the wait staff was personable, and the virgin mango Daiquiri was quite tasty.



8th stop: Home & Queen Sugar

I thought I was going to pass out when I got home, such a long and rewarding day, but I really wanted to end my day with the warm fuzzies of Queen Sugar and glass of tea in my birthday cup.

The writing, directing and music on Queen Sugar are so validating. Good TV. It humanizes us, Black folk, our rituals, language and sensibilities in such an authentic and affirming way. How the show is shot, the angles, and how beautifully our melanin is featured and captured often take my breath away.

Black folk, community and family loving on each other. One of my favorite series was the Soul Food series, and Queen Sugar is 10x better than that and I loved me some Soul Food. The pacing of the show is also what draws me in. It’s not rushed.


Lights out…

If I had one word, okay two words for the day it would be…okay 3 words. Fuq it.

July 5…

I felt cradled by Chicago. I felt embraced by the arts and the people.

I was inspired to create and to honor my sacredness.

I was reminded to never be apologetic for centering myself and those who look like me.

I was inspired to breathe freely and to always find myself in all that I do.

I was inspired to continue to take space, make space. 



nicole jhan’rea


7 thoughts on “On Turning 43: Museums & Movies

  1. Sounds like you had a beautiful birthday. I myself enjoy a good art museum as much as possible. There’s so much history and soul and I love that it’s so easily accessible since most of them are free. Love museums for life!

Leave a Reply