New YorkThe “21 questions” of are back with an eye on New York creatives. Qualeasha Wood is a textile artist who explores black identity and cyberculture, often through woven selfies. She is the 2021-2022 Artist in Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The Met acquired its weaving The [Black] Madonna / Whore complex in April, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston acquired Cardi B’s Foreva Last week.
Last name: Qualeasha Wood
Piece: Prospect – Lefferts Gardens
Occupation: textile artist
What’s hanging above your couch?
My partner and I do not have a couch in our apartment. It’s a pain point: we carried him up four flights of stairs only to have him stuck in the hallway before we could get him in. We found out it was because the fourth and fifth floors of my building were an addition, and the stairwell dimensions are not the same. But above where he would have gone is a large circular mirror with gold spray-painted trim and shelves with a bunch of crystals on it – huge chunks of amethyst, citrine because it’s my birth crystal, obsidian, quartz, so many things. They bring good natural energy into the space.
What was the first job you had in New York?
I hate to be the person who says, “My first job was to be an artist in New York,” but it was. No one ever wanted to give me a job here. I applied for so many jobs, internships and apprenticeships and only got one interview in four years. So I created a work of art for myself, even if it was just to sell something small.
What color are you always drawn to?
I love anything red. Depending on the context, red can mean so many different things: it’s dangerous, it’s exciting, it’s seductive, and it’s kinda sexy.
What work of art or artefact are you most surprised to own?
It would be Kim Kardashian’s book, Self-centered. It was actually a gift from a friend years ago. At the time, I had no idea it would impact my life. I just thought that was so silly. I used it as a clipboard or something to write notes on. Then one day I flipped through it and was inspired by Kim Kardashian’s audacity to market herself to the point of being able to make a book of selfies she’s taken over the years.
Which New Yorker would you like to date?
Cardi B is so smart and creative, and I respect the variety she’s had in her career. I feel like we would get along. She has great taste in food, and I have amazing taste in food, and we would go out and eat crab legs and talk politics.
What’s the last thing you did with your hands?
I’ve been working on beading a tapestry for three days, but the last thing I literally made with my hands was a bowl of Honeycomb cereal.
Is there something you have multiple versions of?
I collected different A card sets over the past three years. I have always been a big A player, and my collection started innocently: I had regularly Aso i got the minimalist very elegant black cards. I convinced the president of RISD to buy me Giant as compensation for something I did. I am now trying to buy all Mattel designs A packs. I have one Nina Chanel Abney a it was a gift, a Keith Haring set and a VeeFriends Position. There are seven more I need to get.
Which museum in New York do you always go to?
I grew up going to museums and was always bored. But I loved the American Museum of Natural History. I didn’t travel much when I was young, so going there was a way of seeing the world. I just think it’s so wonderful to think about the world beyond me as a human and all those things that lived and breathed and made up an ecosystem.
What do you always have next to your computer?
Something to drink, which is the last thing you really want near an electronic device. I’ve spilled quite a few on my computers and keyboards. Right now I have four bottles of water on my desk.
Where is the best view in town?
Controversial, but New Jersey. Not everyone likes that. But growing up in New Jersey in a beach town and being able to see a vague part of the New York skyline was something that made the world feel huge and beautiful. For New Years, I visited a friend who lives in Weehawken and we drove to Hamilton Park at 11:59 p.m., just before the ball dropped. The whole city was lit up and the skyline was so beautiful. I think it provided a lot of perspective. If you’re in New York, you can’t see it that way. You have to be outside to look inside.
What building or object do you want to redraw each time you see it?
The Guggenheim is my least favorite thing to watch. Maybe it’s related to the ship. It’s always felt like a fever dream – that big whirling white object that feels like it’s been thrown around the city with no regard for its surroundings. I feel dizzy when I’m inside since everything is in a circle. I think it needs a new material or a splash of color. Something more grounded.
What is one thing you would change in your field?
If I could ban networking, I would. I wish it was easier to make real connections with people, especially with other artists. I ran into someone I know recently, and he just started talking about his accomplishments, and it was disappointing. Conversations are about seeing what another person is doing and using that as a way to assert yourself or judge yourself. The last thing I want to talk about with other artists is the art we make. I love talking about art in the world, about the movie we just saw and the music we listen to. I don’t like it when people say, “Oh, let’s go to your studio and hang out together.” We are artists all the time; I’m interested in who we are outside of that.
If you could live anywhere in New York, where would it be?
If I was ridiculously rich, I’d buy a warehouse loft in Dumbo with an elevator that goes straight to my apartment. Dumbo is a nice place where you’re near the bridge with easy access to Manhattan, there’s great food to eat, and the real estate is amazing. There’s a romance that you always pursue when you’re an artist in town, and I think of this Dumbo space as, Oh I did.
What would you do in reserve if it ceased to be produced?
I’ve already done that. I really got attached to Les Incrustables at the beginning of the year. I never had one when I was a kid because my mom would just say, “Why would I buy you a premade peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I could make one?” I always have trouble figuring out what to eat when I’m working, so I ordered a box and was hooked. I became emotionally dependent on eating one every day. Then all of a sudden it started being declined on all my grocery orders. I was like, What’s going on?! I was doing so much research. I found out that Smucker’s didn’t produce as many because an ingredient was hard to get due to the pandemic. A friend who was visiting Michigan called me and said, “They have incrustables here. How many do you want?” I said eight boxes, and I’m still working on it.
What do you do to get out of a creative rut?
I make a reading list. I try to think of an atmosphere towards which I am going with the project or towards where it must go. I know what playlist I was listening to for every track I made. There are certain songs that I have to hear to feel that I can accomplish something. “Bound”, by Kanye West, was a song that I overplayed while I was doing The [Black] Madonna / Whore complex. I also listened to “Trader Joe” by Junglepussy and a lot of Drake and BbyMutha.
Where was your first apartment in New York and how much was the rent?
The one I’m in now at Prospect–Lefferts Gardens. It’s $2,300 a month, and thank God I’m splitting the rent with my partner. Everywhere I’ve lived in New York before, I’ve stayed with friends on their couches. This is the first place I got my name on a lease.
Where in the city do you go to be alone?
In a cafe, I can blend in and become invisible for a few hours. The last one I went to was milk and honeyin Flatbush.
Worst career advice you’ve ever received?
“You should wait.” People told me I should wait to apply to the Studio Museum. I didn’t listen, and now I’m artist-in-residence. I was told “You should wait until you’re older”, especially when I was applying to my graduate program. Everyone said, “Why are you doing this? Now? This will further benefit your career later. And I was like, Well, who can say what benefits my career? I don’t think that’s a malicious thing to say; I just think we know our own timing and have to trust what feels right in the moment. A lot of things I’ve been able to accomplish in my career have happened because I didn’t wait.
What have you given someone that you wish you could get back?
In fourth grade, I let my friend borrow my Dreaming of you CD, by Selena. I asked for it for weeks and weeks, and she finally admitted that it got stuck in the CD slot of her mother’s car. My mother wouldn’t buy me another one, and I never got another one. It was one of my most listened to CDs, and I never recovered from losing it.
What is your favorite restaurant in NYC and do you order regularly?
Melba’s in Harlem. Fried catfish and eggnog waffles are the only thing I find there so far. It comes with strawberry butter and maple syrup, but I add hot sauce to it. My mom is from the south, so I grew up eating catfish. It’s kind of hard to find good soul food in New York, and this is my favorite place for that.
What descriptive phrase do you want on your obituary?
It would be great if it was just a link to my instagram Where Twitter so people can get to know me as I experienced it instead of someone else telling people how they should remember me.