Holding Pattern: Michael Loderstedt interviews Kahlil Pedizisai about Collinwood Now

Photographer Kahlil I. Pedizisai

Michael Loderstedt had the opportunity to interview photographer Kahlil I. Pedizisai about his work included in the upcoming Collinwood Now exhibition opening at Photocentric (15515 Waterloo Rd.) August 7- 29, in collaboration with Cleveland Heights Now opening August 6 at Foothill Galleries (2450 Fairmont Blvd). These two projects ask both new and seasoned photographers living in their respective neighborhoods to turn their lenses onto their surroundings.

Michael Loderstedt: First of all, welcome Kahlil I. Pedizisai to Photocentric, and thank you for letting us share your work as part of Collinwood Now.

ML: Earlier I was thinking that our friendship goes back to the early 90’s when we both resided at Hodge School off E. 74th St. and what a lively art scene we were part of in when Kevin Everson, Michelangelo Lovelace, Pattie Fields and Ray Juaire, Dominique Brown, Nick Charles and many others were all living there. bell hooks was teaching at Oberlin and would stop in, and curator Thelma Golden was making studio visits with artists there. What a cool and heady environment that was to be part of, and how many of the same issues we discussed back then are still part of the current conversation–– excessive use of police violence on black bodies, the inequities of Cleveland’s urban revitalization, so I’m wondering have we moved the needle in those thirty years?

Kahlil I. Pedisai: Those were the days. Before I can go back to the period that is fundamental to my career as an artist, I have to address the material conditions of then and now. Yes, we are still dealing with the same issues from 30 years ago. The problems are interchangeable, faster, and more deadly. 2020 Coronavirus becomes a worldwide pandemic in a few months versus the emergence of HIV/AIDS in the late 1980’s which moved slower but has killed more than 30 million people and counting in spite of medical treatment. Then we can look at the Opioid Crisis of the mid 2000s versus the Crack Epidemic of the 1990’s which cannot be discussed without the lens of race and class. One is a health crisis which requires treatment and the other requires long term prison sentences. And in 2020 when a viral video shows George Floyd slowly asphyxiated by police on a thoroughfare in Minneapolis, we can clearly recall the first viral video, which showed Rodney King being beaten by police on the side of the highway in Los Angeles in 1991. In both cases the people that took to the streets to protest, but in the case of George Floyd the response was worldwide, because of the increase in racist actions and murders as well as the determination and organization of the Black Lives Matter movement. Very little has changed in the 30 years in Cleveland, I can recall so many names – Michael Pipkins, Tanisha Anderson, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, and Tamir Rice. All killed by police over the last 30 years and not a single police officer was ever found guilty.

Now to the first part of the question where my roots are. When we lived at the Hodge School I was just a photographer/journalist who wanted a big story. There was this whole art tribe in that place. Without all of those folks, I would have remained narrowly focused in journalism – never to work in film, video, and sculpture. The people there changed my life, they are my family. Kevin Everson discussing the importance of conceptual theory and research, Michael Loderstedt building 8×4 industrial pinhole cameras and wooden ships, Michelangelo Lovelace painting the crumbling neighborhood outside of our windows, contrasted against Hector Vega, a great commercial artist painting the skyline as downtown development of office buildings and stadiums was the most important concern in Cleveland. Dominique Brown, a writer that became a commercial filmmaker was my roommate in the 5000 square foot boiler room. Nick Charles, a journalist that wrote features in addition to reporting from war zones, and being a well-connected patron of the arts. Pattie Fields and Ray Juaire with their multimedia works that spoke to me as reassembled historical records. Omar Shaheed, a sculptor that shared his love of African culture and performance artist Cavana Faithwalker and his connection to the education department of the Cleveland Museum. The halls were flooded with art, we had long talks, and folks were always discussing any and everything. The Hodge School is where I learned about not only making art but how to make a living from arts: sales, public art commissions, grants, fundraising, and artist collectives. It was a stimulating and intellectually challenging space and I consider it to be a fundamental part of my life as an artist. It was an amazing time.

Photo by Kahlil I. Pedizisai

ML: I totally agree. You never realize when you’re in it, how much importance that time was to your formation as an artist. I think about it now how much I learned from you guys, it was so eye opening. I learned so much about how art and life could be pursued in a body politic and how important that was. I was always interested in thinking about how art could be born of struggle, and how that knowledge gave depth to what you wanted to make. The other thing I’m so thrilled about, is how successful that list of names has become. How all of us had a little part in that, contributed a bit of dialogue that helped one another. It was a supportive environment back then. I had the little janky-ass darkroom back then, everybody got to use it, maybe sometimes when we’d be eating dinner or ready for bed.

KP: It was a great darkroom! I can’t think of a photo show that was produced by a Hodge resident during that era where the prints didn’t come from that darkroom! Out of all of us only Nick Charles, Dominique, and you (Michael) could cook. I know that often people would be certain to use your darkroom at dinner time because you would feed them. (laughing)

ML: Nick (Charles) could make all that West Indian food. I could eat some of that right now. We were all broke, if we had five beers between six people. (laughing)

Photo by Kahlil I. Pedizisai

ML: Tell me about the work you’ve chosen for Collinwood Now, what are you looking at and why? The photographs we’re talking about are the building being torn down, the rather sweet one with the dad balloons and the monument to Rene.

KP: I have a strong documentarian streak in my artistic practice that requires that I am always looking at material conditions to represent the contemporary moment. Collinwood is a microcosm of the issues affecting urban America. The photograph of the three-story apartment being razed, I suppose some might call it progress. But now after the collapse of the housing bubble of 2008, it is clear that the demolition represents another source of housing that will probably never return to the community. In its place, there will be another trash strewn overgrown lot owned by speculators. The private home remains in danger because the neighborhood is neglected.

The photograph of the balloons spelling DAD highlighting Father’s Day, highlighted the reality of African American fatherhood. In that house like so many others, a father’s life is loved and loves their family. I believe that Black Joy is one of the most precious forms of resistance.

ML: Somebody thought a lot of their dad, I didn’t get anything like that in my yard (laughs).

KP: The photograph of the memorial to Renee deals with a long-standing problem in Cleveland, the murder of African American women. Renee was murdered and her body was burned next to railroad tracks that separate a crumbling factory from a neighborhood. It is clear from the memorial that Renee was loved by family and they are traumatized by her death. These memorials are very common throughout the city of Cleveland. While they provide a glimpse of the victim, it reflects more on who we are as community and the conditions that we will accept.

Photo by Kahlil I. Pedizisai

ML: What’s your impression of Collinwood having worked here for 12 years? Especially in the light of redevelopment of other areas of the city?

KP: I think Collinwood is a neighborhood of focused intentionality that other Cleveland neighborhoods don’t have. In most cases it doesn’t seem that places like Photocentric, Beachland Ballroom, Citizen Pie, and Six Shooter’s Coffee, and the crucial work of Daniel Gray Kontar and Twelve Literary Arts are not absolute profit driven enterprises. They pride themselves as being institutions that serve culture to their immediate neighbors and the city at large. Collinwood is a solid place.



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