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“to render the infinite”: Film Screening and Conversation with zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal and Ayana Contreras

November 6, 2021 from 1:30-2:30pm

How can we begin to imagine Chicago’s future? Sometimes, turning to the past can provide a clue to the way forward. In collaboration with the Chicago Film Archives, visual artist zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal, and composer Ayana Contreras, Chicago Humanities Festival presents a new film meditating on what’s to come for our city.Repurposing archival footage from the Chicago Film Archives’s extensive collection, o’neal has created a speculative visual representation; centering Black women’s cultural contributions to Chicago, Black lesbian experiences, and notions of belonging. The film also features a new soundtrack from Contreras. Join us for a screening, followed by a conversation with o’neal and Contreras about how the creative process be turned toward imagining a different Chicago.

This program is presented as part of Art Design Chicago Now, an initiative funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art that amplifies the voices of Chicago’s diverse creatives, past and present, and explores the essential role they play in shaping the now. This program is presented in partnership with Chicago Film Archives. Masks and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test are required to attend indoor programs.

zakkiyyah najeebah dumas o’neal’s work is most often initiated by personal and social histories related to family legacy, queerness, community making, and intimacy. o’neal’s practice borrows from the visual traditions of social portraiture, video assemblage, collage, and found images, and seeks to reinforce a different kind of gaze (and gazing) enacted through empathy, desire, love, connectedness, and longing. She makes work to further understand how her own lived experiences are connected to broader shared histories and social/cultural experiences. Within her projects there’s an overlying theme of trying to make sense of what and who she belongs to. Ultimately, she intends for her work to reach spaces beyond representation — to imagine ways of being and feeling beyond the systems we inhabit. zakkiyyah has been included in numerous group exhibitions and has had several solo exhibitions at Mana Contemporary, Blanc Gallery, and South Bend Museum of Art. She has also curated exhibitions at spaces such as Chicago Art Department, Blanc gallery and Washington Park Arts Incubator at the University of Chicago. She recently held the 2019- 20 Jackman Goldwasser Residency at the Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago. She is currently an Artist in Residence at University of Chicago’s Arts and Public Life initiative. zakkiyyah is also a Co-founder of CBIM (Concerned Black Image Makers): a collective driven project that prioritizes shared experiences and concerns by lens based artists of the Black diaspora.


Ayana Contreras is a cultural historian, radio DJ and archivist. An avid collector with over 8000 vintage vinyl records, she hosts the Reclaimed Soul program on WBEZ and Vocalo Radio in Chicago. She is also a columnist for DownBeat magazine, and her writings have been published in Chicago Review, Oxford American and Bandcamp Daily among others. Her book on Post-Civil Rights Era cultural history, titled Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago, is scheduled for publication December 2021 through University of Illinois Press.


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