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An Even Hotter Hot Sauce

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I’ve been in Baltimore for almost five years now, but I think that there are things about me that will make it impossible for me to ever fully assimilate. I haven’t eaten one crab since I moved here, I’m a die-hard Cowboys fan, and I adore Artscape, much to the chagrin of native Baltimorean peers, who seem to think the weekend is a chance to boil in the heat, battle visitors from the county, and struggle to navigate the congestion on North Charles. My obsession with Artscape surprises some of my friends. 

When Maryland implemented stay-at-home orders I was sure that the world would resume in a few weeks, maybe a month tops. How naive I was seven months ago. As weeks crept by in isolation, I kept seeing more events that I used to mark and remember time being canceled or postponed. 

When Artscape got canceled I was dealt a devastating blow. Celebrating this weekend, whether it included me working as a production assistant for the silent disco, or dancing at Four Hours of Funk, or the inevitable torrential rain, had given me something to look forward to, and the sudden passage of July without Artscape weekend was a huge disappointment. 

The capacity for humans to adapt and change has always fascinated me and in August I was so excited to learn that BOPA and Hot Sauce Artist Collective were hosting a series of outdoor pop-up art exhibitions in Station North, in the spirit of Artscape, but on a much smaller scale. I visited the pop-up in the lot across from the Charles Theater twice, and I wish I had attended every single weekend. The ability to see art in public around other art lovers was enriching, and being able to walk to these pop-ups also felt special. These temporary exhibits were outside of my Covid routine and they were beautiful. Suddenly, I felt more connected to other people in Baltimore. 

The members of the Hot Sauce Artist Collective—Alpha Massaquoi, Jr., Italo De Déa, Kayla Fryer, and Alexandre Edoh Yao Amegah—are on fire with energy and enthusiasm for their fellow artists. They’re shining examples of artists of color in Baltimore making their own lanes, forging their own paths. They are printmakers, educators, neighbors, innovators, and curators, and they are using their platform to bring outdoor art and culture events to different neighborhoods in Baltimore City. I decided to reach out to them to find out more about their current series of outdoor exhibits—now held at Jubilee Arts in partnership with the Black Arts District—continuing this fall as part of BOPA’s Free Fall Baltimore program.

Hot Sauce Artist Collective members Italo De Dea, Alpha Massaquoi Jr., Kayla Fryer, and Alexandre Edoh Yao Amegah

On Saturday, October 24, check out the pop-up with art by Kayla Fryer and Chima Ezenwachi at Jubilee Arts, 1947 Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217.

 

Teri Henderson: Why did you start Hot Sauce Artist Collective? 

Alexandre Edoh Yao Amegah: We started this platform to support one another and other artists trying to make it in the art world. The world thrives on entertainment. Art in its many facets provides an abundance of entertainment to the world yet it gives little to no support to those that keep it going. Few people are willing to nurture artists from a young age. To be an artist is to fight for your right to pursue what you love. Having a solid support system is imperative to one’s success. With that in mind, we decided to come together to keep each other creating and to extend any support we can to other artists.

Alpha Massaquoi Jr.: I saw it as an opportunity for us to build together. I saw that we all have unique strengths, and in the art world, you have to wear many hats, but if you have friends to lean on we are unstoppable. I am not a good writer, but I can market water to a fish. Kayla is really good at keeping us on task and budgeting. Italo is the logistic king and he is great at writing. Alex is very precise, so he makes sure our plans are neat. Plus we are all amazing printmakers. It was a random idea but we have grown into something amazing. 

How did BOPA become a collaborative partner for you?

AM: I texted Kirk Butts [Public Art and Curation Manager at BOPA], at 4 in the morning about a crazy idea that I dreamt about. I shared it with the team and we had a plan but we didn’t know how to carry it out. Kirk told me he recently got hired at BOPA and he loved the idea so much, he was willing to present it to his bosses without us fleshing it out (Kirk is a true believer!!). Things were shaky because no one at BOPA had heard about us or even trusted us, so we had to do a lot of the heavy lifting at first, but once they understood the vision, they embraced us and the rest is history. 

AEYA: Alpha had a back-to-the-future moment.

AM: All my best ideas come in my dreams. 🙂

How can BmoreArt readers participate and support your work? 

AM: Honestly, we would love to see more BmoreArt readers out at the pop-up shows to support us and the artists being shown. 

AEYA: Spreading the word about the shows by sharing and posting flyers, keeping an eye out for artists participating in shows, so as to connect them with others who missed the shows but might be interested. For example, connecting any potential buyers they think would be interested in the artist or companies/private businesses who are BmoreArt readers that could provide an artist with materials they may use for their artwork if not for recycling at a discounted price. We are looking for organizations that can partner with an artist to bring artwork into the community as we ourselves have done with our recent shows.

Can you tell me a little bit about the first series of pop-ups held in August in Station North, in the parking lot across from the Charles Theatre? 

AEYA: The first series of shows at Station North was held to tackle the issue of safely viewing artwork in our current quarantine state due to COVID-19. At the same time, we also wanted to use this opportunity to highlight Baltimore creatives in a manner that broke out of the art gallery norms. 

AM: Yeah, honestly, I wasn’t feeling the virtual shows. It took away the feeling of the work activating a space, so the first show was all about figuring how we can do that safely. I reached out to tons of artists and by God’s grace, we got lots of amazing artists (who are now family) to work with us. We had Will Watson (Aug. 2), Marie Amegah (Aug. 9), Italo De Dea (Aug. 16), AMBROSE (Aug. 23) and McKinley Wallace III (Aug. 30) showcase their art each Sunday in the month of August, under BOPA’s “Art in August” umbrella. 

Art by Charles Mason III and Alpha Massaquoi Jr.
Artists with Baltimore City mayoral candidate Brandon Scott (photo by Teri Henderson)

How has the reception been with the new popup location at Jubilee Arts? 

AM: The reception has been amazing. The people from the neighborhood have embraced us, I’ve made some new friends and family out in West Baltimore through the power of art. The people are excited that there is something different from their everyday routine happening in a place that they feel like is often overlooked or labeled as dangerous. Plus we had a music performance by Baltimore artists Brandon Woody and Josh Stokes, which came together spontaneously due to the location and one of the artists, Kolpeace

AEYA: The reception has been great. Catching people’s attention as they pass by is always a pleasure. The lack of a barrier at this new location allows those happening by the show to feel more inclined to walk up freely without us having to invite them, which is pretty cool.

Italo De Déa: We are grateful that Black Arts District and Jubilee Arts Baltimore partnered with us regarding location. The two sets of walls and artwork have been elevated by the beautiful open grass area, the murals, and the garden with fruit trees and sculptures in the lot. Also, we have so many other collaborators coming together on Saturdays to make the show even better. For example, last week we had J. Janae Foods selling amazing vegan food, Brandon Woody, and Kolpeace. 

Kayla Fryer: The location works so great. It allows people to see it easily as they’re walking or driving by and they seem more inclined to come and experience the pop-up. Also, the lot size gives us more space to work with. 

How do the two pop-ups vary?

AM: The first pop-up was smaller and it took us two weeks to plan, it was all about us establishing ourselves as a collective and sharing our vision with Baltimore. The current show is executing that vision with more control. We have support from the city and small businesses like B.Willow (who provided our plants… s/o to Liz Vayda) and LED Baltimore who provided promotion for us.  

KF: I think the first pop-up was a good starting ground. At the time we only had one artist a week, no partners, no vendors. It allowed us to focus on how to have a pop-up exhibition. This current pop-up is more interactive. Having partners like B.Willow providing us plants and Baltimore Clayworks with clay kits for the patrons, LED Baltimore with promotion, and then each week is a group exhibition, I believe it allows it to be more of a community-driven exhibition. 

What’s next for Hot Sauce? 

AEYA: An even HOTTER Hot Sauce.

IDD: Exactly! It will just get hotter. We are working on the next events but also on structure and how to organize our collective internally. We are building an art program that brings international and local artists together in Baltimore. During these two-week programs, we will incorporate educational and product creation projects side by side with the pop-up exhibitions we already do. That way the artists that come from outside Baltimore to share their perspectives also experience an immersion in Baltimore. We have been also studying the possibilities to assist people with our infrastructure and experience to create their own pop-up events in their communities. Overall we are excited and thoughtful about all the directions the collective can take to keep one of our main and initial missions of artists supporting artists and nurturing a sense of independence and DIY. 

AM: Also, Hot Sauce members have a group show at Eubie Blake Jazz Center this November, and we are taking December off to focus on our own practices.  

KF: We are working on pop-ups that will be hosted in Prince George’s County for the spring, as well as continuing to have live musicians during the exhibitions. 

 

What are all of your individual occupations/artistic practices?

AM: City school middle/high school art teacher/Hot Sauce co-founder and Program director. I am a printmaker and charcoal-based artist.

KF: I am an Arts Administrator working for the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission as an Assistant Countywide Arts Coordinator for Special Programs. I help establish and supervise art programs for the youth. With my art practice, I work in multiple mediums: painting (oil and acrylic), printmaking, and drawing. Recently I’ve been working on how I can bring them all together. In my work, I mostly focus on Black emotions and expression. My most recent paintings focus on Black male masculinity and confronting their sensitivities. I am able to convey these emotions by using a variety of blue and pink paints to intensify the subjects’ facial expressions.

IDD: Aside from being the logistics director at Hot Sauce Collective, I am also a printmaking adjunct professor at Towson University and Goucher College. My artwork aims to represent my personal experiences and knowledge about space and its cultural, social, political characteristics. The visual language I use is calm and quiet, and at the same time it depicts a nostalgic, emotive, and warm atmosphere. My process starts in a database of photos I take and research. Using sections of these images, I manipulate compositions and depict them through realistic but still painterly ink drawings. My latest finished series documents my experiences back home in Boa Vista city, the extreme north of Brazil. 

AEYA: Baltimore City Public Schools elementary art teacher, visual artist. Medium: ink, wood, graphic design. In my work, I simply try to highlight everyday experiences and things we all might share even in our individual existence. Things that we can appreciate when we aren’t bogged down mentally, physically, and emotionally by our everyday lives.

Where do you see Hot Sauce being a year from now? 

AM: I see Hot Sauce being a hub to connect Baltimore artists to the world. First we want to establish ourselves as a hub here in the city that supports local artists’ growth, then we want to connect these artists with different parts of the world. 

IDD: I second what Alpha said, and I add: I also see a collective that has a solid voice in the art community, in Baltimore and everywhere else we go, that advocates and generates projects with the potential to impact artists and communities positively and permanently. 

Is there anything else you’d like BmoreArt readers to know? 

AM: Hot Sauce is family. We are not looking to compete with anyone but instead build with everyone who sees our vision. We want to build a large family here in Baltimore, bridging the gap between the art and the people.

Plus, I want everyone to remember every major art movement started with a small group of friends who were crazy enough to share their art with their communities, and the communities were crazy enough to support them. 

October 17 pop-up, photo courtesy Alpha Massaquoi Jr.

Photos by Teri Henderson, Cara Ober, and courtesy of Alpha Massaquoi Jr.

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