Meet the curator on a search for Chicago’s next art star

Elly Fishman, WBEZ Chicago, April 6, 2022

When Jamillah James was tapped for the high-profile job of helping relaunch the Institution of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 2016, she arrived with a mission: to create space for emerging artists, especially Black and brown ones. Among the first places she searched was Chicago, where she had previously played the drums in an experimental band, dabbled in arts programming, and studied art history and theory at Columbia College.


“There’s a type of freedom that artists have here. They can make the work they want and have the conversations they want to have,” said James, who returned to Chicago to take a senior curatorial post at the Museum of Contemporary Art last November. “That’s why you get such exciting, experimental work coming out of the city.”


That experimental ethos makes Chicago an inspiring place to search for new artists right now, James said, and it will be on full display at the international art fair EXPO, returning to Navy Pier from April 7-10 after a two-year hiatus. In addition to works from thousands of artists, this year’s EXPO will prominently feature pioneers of Black art, such as abstract painter and social activist Mary Lovelace O’Neal – in conversation with James on the opening night of the fair – and the 1960s Chicago collective AFRICOBRA.


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