Hawona Sullivan Janzen / by Altered Esthetics

Hawona Sullivan Janzen is a somewhat optimistic daisy in the rose garden of life who just happens to believe that art is the only thing that can save us from ourselves.  On most weekdays she can be found at the University of Minnesota's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis where she is the gallery curator and co-founder of the Witness Creative Writing Group, a free monthly creative writing program. When she is not banging out poems on her cursive font typewriter in front of live audiences, you may find her singing improvisational jazz with the Sonoglyph Music & Poetry Collective, creating shadow puppet shows at Monkeybear Harmolodic, or composing music in her St. Paul studio. She is currently developing a jazz opera and installation piece titled Clean, which debuted at the Soap Factory in June of 2016, into a full-length performance piece.

Clean , Soap Factory, 2016

Clean, Soap Factory, 2016

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on? How is this different from past projects?

I’m multi-genre: a poet, composer, singer, performer, and socially-engaged installation artist.
Currently I’m at work on three projects:

1. Rondo Family Reunion - a poetry & photography project that brings stories of the Rondo Community to life with performance, lawn sign, and book components.

2. Blue: Our Lives Are On This Line - an encounter poetry project based on people I meet along the Blue Line Expansion route through North Minneapolis.

3. Clean - a jazz opera project that started during a residency at the Soap Factory.

How did you decide to become an artist?

I’m not sure that I ever did. I come from a deep tradition of storytelling, sewing, and farming so I suppose creating was always a part of who I am. In college at the University of Minnesota, I took art classes and discovered a real passion for Performance-based Art which is really just storytelling by a different name. It has taken me 20 years to declare myself an artist.

Clean , Soap Factory, 2016

Clean, Soap Factory, 2016

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Do something! I knew an artist who was angry about a problem she saw in her community. I encouraged her to use her art to start conversations in her community.  

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

Large scale text installations, I dream elaborate works but haven’t quite figured out where I can find space to bring them to life.

Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art.  How do you sell your work? How do you market yourself?

I don’t, really.  I fund my writing work through grants. My performance, composing, and singing work is funded by cover charges and/or venue fees.

Poetry of Resistance & Change , 2017

Poetry of Resistance & Change, 2017

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

There are so many...

Free Black Dirt: http://www.freeblackdirt.com/
Venus DeMars: http://venusdemars.com/
Michael Kleber-Diggs: https://michaelkleberdiggs.com/
Zoe Bird and the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project: http://www.alzpoetrymn.org/poets
Saymoukda Vongsay: https://www.saymoukdatherefugenius.com/

If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?

The Minnesota Museum of American Art (The M)
The Loft
Ordway
The Black Dog

I love modern art, spoken word, jazz.  You name it I’ve got a passion for it.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Expect to see me doing more public art in 2019-20. Summer 2019, I’ll be doing a lawn sign public art installation of poems and photos with photographer, Chris Scott, and poet, Clarence White.

Image of the artist and Frida

Image of the artist and Frida

Follow Hawona on her Facebook page, Hawona Writes, and on Twitter at @Hawona.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Interview written by Molly Parker Stuart, edited by Sarah Kass.