Chicago Teen Nakiyah Powell Created Music That Inspired a Powerful Sculpture

Nakiyah Powell performs at the opening reception for In Conversation at Chicago Art Department. MICHAEL COURIER / COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART


Since 2000, Chicago-based organization Free Write Arts & Literacy has been giving incarcerated and court-involved youth the skills and opportunities to take control of their own narratives by telling their own stories through creative writing, visual art, and music production.

This year, Free Write has put on an exhibition — called In Conversation — that features the original artwork of over two dozen internationally recognized artists, inspired by the work of Free Write students. Centering work done by artists outside of detention in response to the work done by the artists inside of detention, a conversation is had between two artists with two different lived experiences. This exhibit is meant to spark complex conversations about the justice system, incarceration, and the role of community while celebrating and elevating the work of Free Write’s students.

For Teen Vogue, Free Write Program Director Elgin Bokari sat down with two of the artists featured in the exhibit: Nakiyah Powell, a formerly incarcerated youth who uses music and poetry to express her experience, and Shawné Michaelain Holloway, a new media artist who uses sound, video, and performance to shape the rhetoric of technology and sexuality into tools for exposing structures of power.

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