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As former Executive Director of the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC), an 80-year-old Black arts-based non-profit in the Bronzeville community (Chicago, IL), I was faced with the challenge of finding a way to respect the organization’s history while also making it relevant to current times. It was a challenge of sustainability and scalability…. a balancing act that placed the organization and me at a crossroads of audience and opportunity.
In this journey to find an impossible balance, I was intrigued by the SSCAC’s mostly hidden treasure trove of archives, original work, and a strong founding matriarch whose impact on the organization and the broader arts community is not always known or understood.
In the 1960’s, Margaret Burroughs sat at the center of the Black Arts Movement and organizations like the SSCAC and DuSable Museum. Before she passed in 2010, I had an opportunity to get to know her and better understand her philosophy of the role that her art played in advocating for and communicating to the community.
In Margaret Burroughs, I had found a muse, of sorts…a central point of focus whose positioning in the art world and history in general, spoke so strongly to a broader challenge of connecting community and art. Selfishly, I was also interested in the parallels to my own challenges of merging non-profit management and advocacy with my own art practice.
I began to explore this idea of Margaret Burroughs’ role as an artist, advocate, and institution builder. Once again, seeking the balance that could capture the importance of her as a foundational element in the black arts community while simultaneously exploring the positioning of her work. A gifted artist, her core belief was that art should be accessible to the masses. It is in that very positioning where she seems to have lost relevance within the contemporary art community. It was mass-produced work – in later years- generated by low-quality black and white printers – which people attempted to commodify. Margaret Burroughs’ original vision and the intent was lost by the very practice of others attempting to place a monetary value on the work. Although positively intentioned, her beautiful images lost their original contextual meaning. Through repetition, essentially making the work “bigger”, it actually became smaller, lost its focus and in many ways disappeared in the larger art world.
Playing on the concept of Margaret Burroughs as an institution builder and a foundational element, my work focuses on deconstructing and embedding her imagery while also giving a playful nod to the perceptions and lack of knowledge of her work within various audiences and spaces. I explore these concepts through my choice of materials, appropriated images, and manipulation of scale
– Faheem Majeed
Faheem Majeed (American, b. 1976) is an artist, professor, curator, and community facilitator. He blends his unique experience as an artist, non-profit administrator, and curator to create works that focus on institutional critique and exhibitions that leverage collaboration to engage his immediate, and the broader community, in meaningful dialogue. As part of his studio practice, he transforms materials such as particle board, scrap metal and wood, discarded signs, and billboard remnants, breathing new life into these often overlooked and devalued materials.
As its former executive director (2007-2011), Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center serves as Majeed’s primary muse. Majeed also serves as a co-director and founder of Floating Museum. Floating Museum is an art collective, and non-profit that creates new models to explore relationships between art, community, architecture, and public institutions.
Majeed is a recipient of the Field and Macarthur Foundation’s Leaders for a New Chicago Award (2020), the Joyce Foundation Award (2020), the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant (2015), and the Harpo Foundation Awardee (2016). Majeed’s work has been exhibited in numerous institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Malmö Konstmuseum, New York’s High Line, SMFA at Tufts, and the Hyde Park Art Center.
Majeed serves as an Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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