There is Enough for Everyone is an exhibition featuring the work of 25 artists within a twenty thousand square foot converted warehouse in Houston’s historic 2nd Ward. Curated by TheyThat, There Is Enough For Everyone spotlights the reality of scarcity within black and brown communities. Opening night is at 5601 Navigation Blvd, Houston, TX 77011 this Friday, June 14th from 6:00 pm-11:00 pm following an open gallery on Saturday, June 16th from 7:00 pm – 11:00 pm. The warehouse and surrounding space will be an environment for the artists to explore the conversation that exists between scarcity and abundance. The artists will guide us through the politics of cultural appropriation, tokenization, intrinsic value, questions of sexuality and spirituality.
Earlier this week, I had the gracious opportunity to walk through the space and feed my curiosity alongside organizer artists Mich Stevenson and J. Bilhan. I arrive at the Knockout Factory, a boxing gym important to the community of 2nd ward, and am led by Mich into the space. As my eyes dance from one side of the warehouse to the other, Mich and J share that they’ve worked tirelessly to get the space ready, explaining that at one point, the warehouse was utilized as office space.
Byline Houston: Please, tell me about yourselves and how you came together!
Mich: J and I have been working together since 2015, initially coming together for a specific project named ‘Tenativ’ where we designed combination backpacks and tents. During this time, we started a study called Shelter, Protection, Access, which has remained a strong foundation for our work and this exhibition. For the past year, J had been living in Germany and I’ve been doing other things and when J came back, we understood that it was time for us to start working on something together again. J and I always worked as artists without working exclusively as artists, always producing and creating content, still within a creative space. however, never specifically working on our art or having our own space to showcase our work.
J: In short, we were acting as business people with an entrepreneur mindset, not realizing that we can create artwork and that be our livelihood.
Mich: Exactly, yeah. It was with this realization, that we’ve been working as business people with artists that it brought a new awareness of ourselves. We began investing time and energy to being fully working artists. We visited the Midas Touch show that Preston Douglas had in the Midas Touch building off Harrisburg. We were impressed by the community and the work presented. Both of us, itching and longing have our own production, saw an opportunity when a friend of mine in the community walked into the show and I saw his eyes light up, so I reached out. That friend owns this warehouse.
Byline Houston: It was a moment of “let’s do something”?
Mich: Not just “let’s do something”, but “will you allow an opportunity for black and brown artists exclusively to do a contemporary focused show in your building?” With that said, we want to come in for free. We don’t necessarily have thousands of dollars to rent your building. You have space, and it’s sitting there, empty, not being used. Being given access to the building was really wonderful because when we were given the keys, it essentially became ours. J and I have transformed this space entirely, it was originally a navy blue color and now everything’s painted white. We’ve really owned this space and created it into a reality that can hold art with our community.
J: It was once being utilized as an office space at once point, and when we arrived it was not being used at all.
Mich: Resourcefulness is something that black and brown people tend to be very keen to. We look around and go “ok, this has enough of what I need to turn it into what I need to turn it into” and that’s largely how J and I have always worked. We seek opportunities in the resources we have access to and create something unique, special, and beyond that, impactful in that we are helping other people. Although both J and I could fill up this entire space with our work, we knew that we would not just do an exhibition just us featured, by ourselves. J and I realize that access needs to be amplified, opened up and that this space wasn’t just given to us by whomever. We invited our black and brown family; not only our brothers and sisters, but the people in the fringes, people on the outside, the ones that feel they don’t belong anywhere and are told that they don’t have a space. Validating them, letting the people who sit at the margins know that they do have a space here has been our primary motivation for why we’ve done anything that we’ve done.
Byline Houston: Why do you take so much effort to center the people who sit at the margins of our culture?
J: Because we’ve experienced it. Simply. We come from communities with brown and black skin and we’ve experienced scarcity, homelessness and when we’re queer we’ve experienced, in terms I’ll put softly, being banished by society.
Mich: That experience is simply our norm. It’s a normalized reality for our community to not have access. Like J was saying, we both live in a reality where the environment that we live in forces us into a framework that says that there’s not enough. Right now, many of us are exhausted from hearing and internalizing this, we’re looking around and seeing that message is absolutely not accurate. We have an opportunity to make our mark, our moment, our splash and resist this message of scarcity as we claim our own abundance for our own realities, our beautiful lives, stop asking permission from folks to be who we are and instead live how we wanna live as anybody in the margins. For all people living in the margins of our culture, there is going to have to be a vast coming together for all of us. The black people, brown people, gay, lesbian, trans, everyone is going to have to see one another as the same in order for us to carry our future forward. Exhibitions and experiences like this bring all of us together and bring our communities together, allowing us to have energy and love together.
We begin our walkthrough from one side of the warehouse to the other, ending my tour at the boxing gym that centers a ring that will serve as a performance space during the opening reception.
We come upon two paintings by Stephen Wilson in a space within the main hall.
Mich: Stephen Wilson is a designer at the ACLU, doing important work in the city. The two pieces we have featured, one is of a series of 20 paintings dealing with the black male head figure. The origin of this painting is drawn from gridded haircut posters you’ll find in black barber shops. The second painting is a painting of Emmett Till. This painting is a response to Dana Schutz’ “Open Casket”. Instead of playing on Emmet’s death and the spectacle of black death, this painting honors Emmet in his beauty. I know for Wilson, this is probably the most important piece that he’s worked on.
We continue through the exhibition and I’m learning about each artist featured, we stop at an installation of mirrors. A piece entitled ChangingWomon by Mn.
Mich: Mn is exploring identity through her writing and poetry. We know Mn from her first collaborative project HTX PEOPLE PROJECT. Since then, we’ve witnessed Mn blessing this entire city with powerful words. I invited Mn into the exhibition because I knew that there was no way that I would have one that she would not be a part of. Mn has brought in mirrors for reflection for others to not only read these words but to also reflect the experience within themselves. Mn also works with and dyed fabric, working with texture as symbolism for how she feels weaving in between her words, finding them wrapping around her, textures help her understand what it is that she is trying to communicate. I’m very excited to have her in the show.
As Mich, J, and I continue onward, Tania Santin arrives at the space to work on her pieces for the show. I’m pleased that she has agreed to share a few minutes with me to speak on her work.
Tania: As I was thinking of the term “there is enough for everyone”, my mind began exploring the topic of gentrification, and how it is a process of both creation and destruction at once. I’ve constructed a sculpture city of brown and black material surrounded by bloody water. Similarly, Mexico City is built upon a lake and Houston a swamp. This space will have many different elements, all considering family. My brother will also have a painting on view. I’m looking forward to seeing what my children will come up with for this city scape, and how their creative process expresses itself in this moment.
Byline Houston: What is something you would like someone to consider as they visit your space?
Tania: I would like visitors to consider the process of destruction and creation. Many of us are marginalized individuals and I appreciate the fact that Mich and J invited me to be a part of this show and accepted me as I am. Destruction is very present in my life and, as a response, I keep a creation process as a way to keep myself a little more alive.
I thank Tania for her time and catch back up to Mich and J who are staying hydrated with water.
Byline Houston: Would you tell me a bit about the performances?
J: Opening night, we will have performances beginning at 6:30 in the adjacent Knockout Factory. The Knockout Factory is a community stronghold and an important place for second ward. It’s an interesting situation to mesh together, especially considering the theme of the show. one, this being a staple community center, but also a place that has these traditional elements of masculinity and aggression, having those roles present especially with the body of work that we will be featuring, there is an interesting talk there. Within the boxing ring, we will have performances including Sophia Anderson, James Tillman, christian may, Fermin may read a poem and Michael will have a performance as well. Performance is a new space for both Michael and I artistically, developmentally. Dominique Russell, Ella’s son of Crumbville, TX will debut a sculpture, video work and performance. We’re very excited for him.
Mich: Monica and Camacho, the owners of the gym, are two saints within this community. They truly see the difference in a lot of the kids lives as they leave their gym, they see them smiling. There’s a lot of love that happens here at this space, and they are also very aware of the reality of their neighborhood, how it’s changing, how they are affected by it. They’re really good people.
J: We’re really grateful for this opportunity while also using our privilege and opportunity to do something we know is necessary and make our voices known to carry all of us into the next phase in life.
Mich: This is a true moment for us, to move from one side of ourselves to another. One experience or awareness of what we can do and how we can take up space and what gets to happen for all of us on the other side. Not saying that something like this has never happened before or hasn’t happened in other parts of the country, but we hope that there is a ripple effect and everyone starts looking for ways to do the same thing.
J: Having a space and utilizing it for a large community, people in the fringes. Opening the space, transforming it into a gallery and providing the platform took minimal effort and thought. It was understood that this was the thing that needed to happen, had to be done.
Mich: Walking in here and going ‘we have to paint all these walls white, it’s gonna take us a week and we’re not gonna get sleep” never was a thing, because this has to be done and it has to come correct and be done all the way right.
Byline Houston: What is something you want people to consider as they enter the space.
J: I want people to question everything. It could be gender-identity, sexuality, beauty, inclusion, ethnicity, a relationship and responsibility to the environment and earth. Hopefully, bring some momentum into these neighborhoods that is not driven by other people’s agendas or profits and instead bring about momentum with the people. That would be the ideal situation of something that follows.
Mich: Along the same vein, it’s an exploration of people’s moral imaginations. For black, brown & marginalized people, we can own that there is really enough for us. In this work, his has been something I’ve had to discover and tune into and believe. Often times, when you think about there being enough, you gotta think about there not being enough. So, allowing that to invoke whatever it does so that the end of this, what people can walk away with is a sprinter of togetherness that can be taken back into your community. Together is how we go forward.