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For Faheem Majeed, Chicago Is His Blank Canvas

Written by on May 17, 2021

Artist, curator, educator and community facilitator Faheem Majeed understands that Chicago is a true playground for artists. Here, he found his own independent voice, while providing meaningful platforms for other creatives along the way. This is what his Chicago Sounds Like.

Put a little bit of that positive energy out there in the world and try to be sincere about it, without looking for a return all the time… Nine times out of ten what I found is that in the giving out you always get back twentyfold.

Faheem Majeed

Are you from Chicago?

Not only do I have a weird association with Chicago, I have a very weird family history. I was actually born here in Chicago. I moved away when I was under one, so very young. My parents were both first generation in Nation of Islam. So I was the first generation of “Majeed” after them being Sue X and Donald X.

We moved down south–there’s a whole generation of people who left the Nation after Malcolm X was assassinated, and they were impacted by that and left to join in the more traditional senses of the faith.

I then went to North Carolina where my father’s from, and my great uncle was the first black mayor of Raleigh, so I grew up used to seeing my face on campaign posters. We weren’t necessarily wealthy, but because of that, people recognized me.

My mother went back to her hometown in the Twin Cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul. We ended up settling in Minneapolis, where she became executive director of a chemical abuse agency called African American Family Services.

With politics on one side and social workers on the other side, I decided to be an artist, and I’m back in Chicago. I now live on the same street where all this started, where I was conceived… just four blocks down.

So what ended up bringing you to the city?

I’ve been fortuitous; I didn’t come looking for Chicago. After I graduated from Howard [University], I went home to take care of my mother. She was in her final two years of a 10-year bout with ovarian cancer. My mother was always like, “you go out in the world and do things,” but this was one time she said, “no, I really need you to come home.”

And when she passed away, my girlfriend got a job here. Chicago was a much bigger city. I had this body of work, this kind of, you know, emaciated, big steel sculptures that was really the work that came out after going through some really serious depression after the loss of my mother, and it was the place that I embedded all those emotions.

Immediately, Chicago opened up its arms. Places like the South Side Community Art Center and a whole network of artists opened up their arms to me and pulled me in tight. And they just held me and really created the foundation for everything. I remember that and I revere that in my work.

Where do you live now?

I’m in South Shore. It makes sense if you think about my parents being in the Nation [of Islam]; the Mosque [Maryam] is right there. I didn’t make that connection, but my father pointed out when he came to visit one time he said, “wait a minute, the mosque is just four blocks down!”

I love South Shore. I try in my art practice, as much as possible, to think hyper-locally. I do believe that in block by block you can make a massive change, and so if everyone… each one teach one… if everyone works on themselves, works on their block, that can have massive ripples.

What do you find the most engaging about Chicago?

I think what kind of made me stay is Chicago is a very interesting space. It’s a space where my artistic birth happened. It’s a space that I respect because I started learning about people like [DuSable Museum founder] Margaret Burroughs and all these kind of Black artists in Bronzeville, kind of making an art scene for themselves, with collector bases. And I was a full-time artist very early on, outside of what we know as the gallery system.

And, I didn’t realize how special that was because that’s all I knew. Until later on, I started tapping into other spaces internationally and nationally.

But what I love about Chicago is, call it grit, call it that Chicago blue collar, do it yourself attitude. We just make it happen.

You know, if not for Chicago, I couldn’t do something like the Floating Museum, just deciding, like, “we wanna do this thing!” I’m not going wait around for permission. I look at people like Margaret Burroughs, who just founded a museum, and people like her.

Floating Museum River Assembly / Chicago Illinois USA / 2017

Do you have any words you live by?

I think at the core of it, it’s just good karma. To try as much as possible not to be transactional, to put good things out in the world. And it doesn’t have to be massive. You don’t have to do it at a loss. But just give a little something… don’t give it all the way. Just put something positive out in the world. And that could be something as small as helping one person that could be something as small as doing something right when ain’t nobody looking.

Put a little bit of that positive energy out there in the world and try to be sincere about it, without looking for a return all the time. But nine times out of ten what I found is that in the giving out you always get back twentyfold.


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