Humans of Sweet Water....Meet Aaliyah Christina

Meet Aaliyah Christina….Aaliyah is an artist who has lived in Chicago for 6.5 years. She first visited Sweet Water Foundation in June of 2018 and has been activating The Commons through dance and collaboration since then. Aaliyah has developed relationships with the SWF team and surrounding community. She worked alongside the core team to build dance floors and learn the principles of farming. SWF is excited to introduce Aaliyah as its first Human-in-Residence. Through this role, she will curate events, programs, and opportunities for artists to engage at The Commons. Read on to learn more about Aaliyah.

Tell us about your background
I was born in Ruston, Louisiana. I moved around a lot as a child because my mom was still in college and my dad was living in Texas. When I was 3 or 4, I moved with my mom to Maryland. I lived with my mom through high school, but I say I’m a tristate person because I went back and forth between Louisiana, Texas, and Maryland. I moved to Chicago in 2012 to go to college. I was a dance major and fiction writing minor at Columbia College from 2012-2016. After I graduated, I stayed in Chicago because I felt like I had found myself here. I found my voice, my vision, and my chosen family here - the things and people that make me feel like I can succeed as a well-rounded person and not just half a person.

I value art that speaks to you - whether that's inside or something you want to get interested in. I call myself an “Improv Mover.” I’m not an expert or specialist in any specific form of movement, but just delve into the things I’ve been trained and learned to do. I’m not the best with choreography. I can move the way someone wants me to move, but I am not my full self unless I’m doing what my body tells me to do. I am also a curator. As a curator, I’m all about the informal comfortable space. I try to create vibes of self care, self reflection, and comfortability in whatever space I curate. I also call myself an “artivist.” I’m very outspoken about social justice whether it’s to do with police brutality or queer identity, I always try to make sure those voices are at the forefront.

How did you find Sweet Water Foundation?
My roommate Ambér and I have been living in the neighborhood for two years. Sweet Water Foundation is literally right around the corner from our place and we didn’t know it existed. We were supposed to visit for the first time to watch our friends Keyierra and Keisha and my former mentor Onye Ozuzu perform at SWF’s First Annual Juneteenth Celebration. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make it for Juneteenth, but we decided to visit after. We had no idea what we were walking into!

My first visit to SWF reawakened my connection with nature. At the time, I was struggling with being detached from ancestry and nature. I grew up in rural areas - far away from any city or skyscrapers. Since I moved to Chicago almost 7 years ago, I’ve been detached from nature.  My introduction to SWF reaffirmed my connection to land and earth and soil. A few weeks after that first visit, I went to one of my mentor’s home/farm for a retreat. I had a huge spiritual experience during that retreat. I felt like I was surrounded by and living in nature again. Even though Ambér and I have lived in the neighborhood for two years, this was the perfect moment in time to discover SWF. I don’t know if I would have felt the same thing coming here a year ago.

What is your role at Sweet Water Foundation?
My friends and I have been activating the Thought Barn since June. The first time I visited SWF, the weather was perfect and I felt like we couldn’t just visit SWF and not do anything about it! A friend of mine from Columbia curated a workshop that centered around re-aligning yourself, taking care of yourself, knowing who you are, and connecting with others and who they are. I think it would have felt more tangible and heartfilled of it had been in the Thought Barn than in a studio. We began to visit The Commons every week to activate the space and invite people to join us.

Moving forward, my role at SWF will be a Human-in-Residence. With that role, I want to continue introducing more artists to the space and curating events, workshops, and pop-ups in this community on the south side of Chicago with the people who live here. Links Hall is a performance/dance space in Roscoe Village on the north side. It is an amazing place that we love as a dance community. Links Hall has created amazing programs and opportunities for artists and artists of color, but it is not always accessible for artists on the south side. Roell Schmidt, Links Hall Executive Director, wants SWF to become a hub like Links Hall for artists on the south side. I think I could be the bridge since I do live right down the street. I love being here so I am excited to see how my role develops as a Human-in-Residence.

Can you tell us about your role building dance floors at SWF?
Onye Ozuzu explained to me why Project Tool was created. She wanted Project Tool to be something tangible in response to the experiences she was feeling mentally and psychologically. Building dance floors became something Onye could channel all her energy and aggression into. Sometimes, we’re stuck in our heads and we can't get out of it. Project Tool is this perfect moment to look outside of ourselves and realize we created something beautiful out of feelings, moments, and experiences. I like to use my hands, but I don’t always have the opportunity to do so. Onye presented me with the opportunity to use my hands and learn how to build the dance floors. I felt very accomplished and learned.

I knew how to use some carpentry tools from a shop class I took growing up, but I was so far removed from using them that I had a lot of anxiety and fear about using them. Rather than coming in with an attitude of “oh i know these things”, I was trying to be an open vessel and learn from the SWF team.

Did you develop relationships through the process of making dance floors?
I already knew the dancers in Project Tool and had already garnered relationships with the SWF Team like Keith, Armani, Devontae, Howard, and Emmanuel through our activation of the floors over the summer. Coming into Project Tool and building the floors built a stronger bond with everyone. We worked together in a comfortable and brave space. We were able to work and have conversations. Whether we were having fluffy conversations or charged and intense ones, it was never hostile because we were all willing to listen to each other.

What is your favorite memory of being at Sweet Water Foundation?
One of my favorite moments was our first activation of the Thought Barn. Marceia, Keisha and I  were listening and watching each other. The sunflowers and amaranth were out and beautiful and the wind wasn’t too bad. It felt good to connect with people we didn’t know and reconnect with each other as sister friends.

If you could describe SWF in one word, what would it be?

Courtney Hug