HOUSING opens its doors: a conversation with Eileen Isagon Skyers on the new Brooklyn space dedicated to artists of color

, 19 September 2017
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Defined as “a place for art dedicated to artists of color,” New York’s HOUSING gallery officially opened its doors in September, with a pre-exhibition of work by Cheyenne Julien and Kevin Evans’ D.O.E., which ran from May 12 to June 18. Located in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, Creative Director Eileen Isagon Skyers chats to us about the motivation behind the project to “support artistic practices and aesthetic experiences that contour the limits of visibility, and advance the conditional inclusion of artists of color.”

As a word, HOUSING encapsulates many contradictory concepts, most notably the intense polarisation of crisis and comfort. Also a term Skyers notes as being “both a noun and a verb” that evokes feelings of shelter and welcoming, the space is ‘guided by a desire’ to create a safe space of inclusivity and visibility within a rapidly shifting landscape of intense gentrification and displacement. Co-run with KJ Freeman, the pair are currently fundraising for the ongoing efforts of the space here. In lieu of the “renovations, new developments and consequently, inflated pricing,” HOUSING makes a point to ask visitors new to the area to engage with history and current inhabitants.

Kevin Evans, ‘on my mantle’ (2016). Courtesy the artist + HOUSING, New York.

With an exciting line up of projects underway, the next exhibition Untitled Passage opens September 23 and features work by Khari Johnson-Ricks, Brandon Drew Holmes, Ginssiyo Apara, Kali Flowers and Pastiche Lumumba, as well as an upcoming exhibition with Hamishi Farah, Parker Bright, Sean-Kierre Lyons and Bri Williams, opening October 28. Also an artist and curator, Brooklyn-based Skyers has worked with institutions like Rhizome, The Wassaic Project and the Digital Museum of Digital Art, among others. Her work has been shown internationally, and her book Vanishing Acts (2015) was recently published by LINK Editions

Talking to us ahead of the next second ever exhibition, Skyers gives us insight into the desires for the project as well as the current and future plans for the space.

** Could you talk about your choice of the name ‘HOUSING’ for the project?

Eileen Isagon Skyers: We came upon the idea of calling it HOUSING and felt that it was a great fit for what we are trying to do here: HOUSING is both a noun and a verb. It’s a group of singular accommodation units, considered collectively. It is the act of providing shelter, or space for something. It’s got continuity. These definitions seemed to reflect some of our motives for the gallery, of course. We wanted the name itself to feel welcoming. 

Cheyenne Julien, ‘Chacha Beach’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + HOUSING, New York.

** Would you consider this more a community than just a gallery?

EIS: We’re still new here. We recognize that it will take some time before we’re really able to call ourselves a part of the community, but we do intend to open our doors to our neighbors and host artist workshops for kids in the neighborhood, book release parties, or occasional figure drawing sessions. I’m not entirely sure how these things will all take shape, but we’ve had an overwhelming response so far, and we’re open to ideas.

** Could you talk a bit about Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, its history and why you chose to open here?

EIS: Bed-Stuy is a historically black neighborhood. It had actually been considered a prominent community for the city’s black population as early as the 1920s. It’s this beautiful triangle filled with townhouses, Caribbean food, barber shops, and churches, bordered by East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Crown Heights and Clinton Hill, and it’s my favorite neighborhood. It made sense to open here.

Cheyenne Julien, ‘The Nanny’ (2017) Courtesy the artist + HOUSING, New York.

** Will you be collaborating and having conversations with other galleries or institutions ? 

EIS: We do hope to work with some of the  businesses and shops that neighbor the space. We want to invite organizations that have been instrumental to people of color long before we came along; whether they host a dinner series to cultivate conversations about identity, or program classes that help foster creativity in court-involved young people. We figure that’s a good place to start, and we’ve got some people in mind. 

** Was there something or someone in particular that inspired this to happen?

EIS: The team behind American Medium were former tenants of the space. They offered it to us to open HOUSING, which seemed like a really natural transition for the gallery after their move to Chelsea. We maintain a relationship with them that could allow for some collaboration in the future, but American Medium is no longer involved with the programming at 424 Gates.**

The Untitled Passage group exhibition is on at New York’s HOUSING, opening September 23 and running to October 23, 2017.