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As an undergrad art history student at the University of South Florida, Phillip Townsend met the subject of his thesis, the Afro-Cuban artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons. “I met her during undergrad and followed her work and pitched the idea to her about a show, and she was like, 'Yeah, whenever you are ready let me know,'” Townsend says.
Fast forward a few years to last spring, when Townsend and fellow University of Texas art history doctoral students Jessi DiTillio and Kaila Schedeen decided to create the curatorial group Neon Queen Collective, and they were ready. They reached out as a team to put a show together.
Q+A with Betelhem Makonnen and Adrian Aguilera by Neon Queen Jessi
In March 2017, University of Texas at Austin art history graduate students, Jessi DiTillio, Kaila Schedeen, and Philip Townsend, formed the curatorial-focused Neon Queen Collective. Coming from different areas of research and curatorial practice, the collective was a way to formalize their shared goal of producing exhibitions that provide a platform for female-identifying artists of color and their allies. Their first exhibition, Notes on Sugar, profiles the work of Afro-Cuban artist María Magdalena Compos-Pons, whose work has not been exhibited in Texas since the early nineties. The exhibition runs from January 25- May 5, 2018 at the Christian-Green Gallery, part of UT's John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, with an opening reception on February 2 at 5:30pm. Fusebox artistic director Ron Berry and curators Betelhem Makonnen and Anna Gallagher-Ross sat down with the Queens to chat about working and curating collectively.
An artist-run cooperative gallery space, ICOSA, features an eclectic mix of twenty artists working in a diverse range of styles. Since their first exhibition in April 2016, ICOSA has put on nine two-person exhibitions. The most recent being Adrian Aguilera and Betelhem Makonnen’s yo soy aquí/ i am here, on view at ICOSA until October 29, 2017. From Monterrey, Mexico and Addis Adeba, Ethiopia respectively, Aguilera and Makonnen’s conceptually rigorous show engages the experience of trans-national identity through a “spatial and ontological exploration of our relationship to here.” Sitting in the center of the gallery discussing the show, the three of us got excited about space, time travel, rocks, multiple perspectives and the relational nature of identity.