I could not be happier to announce a major new curatorial-organizing project in the works for several years. The exhibit and event series is called “Organize Your Own: The Politics and Poetics of Self-Determination Movements” and grows out of a longstanding interest I have had in the hidden histories of working-class groups of activists in cities like Philly and Chicago who identify as white and try to get other white people to work against racism while also fighting for their own lives.
This interest began many years ago in my adolescence through encounters I had with two radically different manifestations of “whiteness”: the civil rights work of Anne and Carl Braden in my hometown of Louisville as well as the book Blood In The Face which documented the visual culture of neo-nazi and racist groups in the United States. Years later while working on the early issues of AREA Chicago magazine, I encountered James Tracey and Amy Sonnie who were working on research about the Young Patriots Organization and JOIN Community Union in Chicago. Through AREA we published several of their essays and interviews that eventually led to the publication of Hillbilly Nationalists in 2011. Through that connection I was introduced to Hy Thurman, an inspiring member of the Young Patriots who was working to reignite the organization and looking for someone to help recirculate their out of print poetry collections.
In an effort to make the project engage with the present moment and the many different traditions of the idea of self-determination, I have invited contemporary poets and artists to make new work inspired by this history. The incredible range of participants who have engaged in this project with me is inspiring and has deepened my own engagement in the whole idea.
In the end there will be an exhibit, many events, and a book documenting the project. As of now the exhibit will begin in Philadelphia on January 14th and travel to Chicago in March, and more venues are being explores for later in the year. Major support for Organize Your Own has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from collaborating venues including The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, Kelly Writers House’s Brodsky Gallery at University of Pennsylvania, Slought, Asian Arts Initiative, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and others.