Between Chapters: An Exit Interview with Hamza Walker
Interview for Sixty Inches From Center
Of the countless exhibitions, essays, programs, and projects that are dotted throughout Chicago’s art history and the world because of Hamza Walker, there’s one that sits at the forefront of my mind. The show was Suicide Narcissus, an exhibition he organized at The Renaissance Society in 2013. I visited the exhibition multiple times for the sole purpose of seeing the piece Leviathan Edge (2009), a 30-foot long suspended skeleton of a sperm whale by Lucy Skaer, which was enclosed by a series of walls, making it mostly hidden in plain sight within the gallery space. Though it was largely closed off, there were small gaps in the walls, occasionally revealing series of vertebrae or the massive skull, bringing me closer to a whale than I had ever been. There was something I enjoyed about my access, visual and physical, being restricted, not getting the satisfaction of being able to see everything easily, and having to fill in the blanks of what I was seeing. Looking back, I realize that I was attracted to that piece because of my appreciation for mystery and the charge given by the artist to complete the fragments for myself if I chose to.
I bring this up because Leviathan Edge serves as a kind of metaphor for how Walker has operated during his thirty-two year chapter in Chicago–a steady voice with a hint of stealth, whose presence whispers at times and becomes emphatic and booming at others. Since the ’80s, he has worked behind the scenes and alongside many to support Gallery 37, Urban Gateways, Randolph Street Gallery, and the art collections at Chicago Public Libraries. He has taught classes, visited many artist studios, voiced his thoughts on panels, and sat in on endless crits, nurturing a generation of artists, writers, and curators. He has built his jazz chops with Southend Music Works and under the moniker Mandrake for WHPK, and given shape through words and exhibition-making to the Renaissance Society and the artists it shows from around the globe. He made the original 53rd Street Hyde Park Art Center into a semi-secret indoor haven for skaters before the skate parks well-known today started being built around the city. Then, marked with the scratches and tracks of Chicago skaters, it has been exported to Germany and San Francisco, with a final landing place in Los Angeles. The list is long and endless.
I say this all to say that we think we know the full mark that Walker has made over the last three decades, but the truth is we may never get a full view. Even as a transplant, it’s impossible to truly see roots that have reached the depths that his have. For now, we will hold and appreciate the slices, vertebrae, jawbones, and fragments that make up this chapter and lead into the work that he will go on to do in the next.
Nevertheless, I wanted to collect as many fragments as I could before he made his exit to Los Angeles as the new Director of LAXART. So, at a small coffee shop in Pilsen, Walker spun a web of memories, many sparked by gold-marked tangents, leading to the cast of characters, spaces, and experiences that he’s collected since landing in Chicago from the east coast in 1984.
Read the interview with Hamza here...
Portrait of Hamza, Installation view of Several Silences, Leviathan Edge in Suicide Narcissus, and Installation view of Spec. All images courtesy of the Renaissance Society.