By Judy Carmack Bross
As Brendan Fernandes prepared for the finale performance of his “72 Seasons” within Lurie Garden in Millennium Park on October 23, we asked the artist, dancer, choreographer, and Northwestern University professor of art theory and practice to tell us a little more about himself. We loved his answer!
“I am an artist, a Kenyan, an American, an Indian, a Canadian, and a punk rocker. I am complex and challenging and can’t be defined. I am all about giving and creating space for inclusion.” an artist, a Kenyan, an American, an Indian, a Canadian, and a punk rocker.
He explains his artistic efforts in broad terms as well.
“My past life as a dancer and my experience leaving dance due to injury informs my current performance practice. Working at the intersection of dance and visual art, my pieces open up questions about the hybridity of media and seek to problematize the notion of a fixed, essential, or authentic identity. Over the course of the past 20 years, I have researched and staged performance interventions in national and international museums, galleries, and cultural institutions; facilitated public dialogues on contemporary, everyday socio-political concerns for marginalized communities; and created multimedia projects that rigorously engage with postcolonial and critical theory discourses.
“Due to political unrest, my family, who lived in Africa for five generations, immigrated to Toronto, Canada in 1989. My immigration and childhood in Kenya is central to my artistic practice. Interrogating the fantasy of eroticized spaces, cultural tourism, and questions of authenticity with regards to the “African” artifact and souvenirs, brought the notions of ambiguous provenance, hegemony and identity to the fore and set the stage for my current artistic practice.”
Fernandes, who has lived in Chicago since 2016, told us: “I am in Chicago about a third of my time, in New York a lot and anticipate returning to Canada more frequently now that borders have opened.” His art is currently represented by Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago.
When we talked recently, Fernandes was reviewing the new “72 Seasons” costumes by Rad Hourani designed to depict the changes of seasons in the Japanese calendar. He credits his Kenyan grandmother for his respect for the power of fashion. “She made many of our clothes and insisted that we dress up for church on Sundays and other family occasions. Dressing up she instilled in us gave us a sense of empowerment.”
Like his earlier two performances of “72 Seasons’ ‘ the finale features all-new costumes. “Just as the garden changes, the costumes should change as well. I wanted organic natural textures originally, but in conversation and in collaboration with Rad Hourani I was convinced to use bright, colourful fabrics, some with sequins to become hyper-visible in the garden at times, but it also becomes aa a type of camouflage.”
“Fashion is an extension of the body and is so important for movement,” he continues. “I collaborate with fashion designers as I choreograph my dancers. Fashion definitely adds character as well as being a statement about race, class, gender and social politics.”
One of 10 Men of Style selected recently by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, Fernandes wrote a reflection for the current Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s “Willi Smith: Street Couture” exhibition.
Part dance, part installation, “72 Seasons” examines people as invasive species in a prairie garden setting. Plaques and poems further tell the story. The title comes from Japanese micro-seasons, each approximately five days long, and has names such as “Thick Fog Blankets the Sky” or “The First Frost Falls”, the dancer’s movements relate to their places in the natural world and deal with questions of sustainability.
“This has all been about collaboration between the dancers, the curators, the City of Chicago, and myself,” Fernandes said. “A good collaboration involves being kind, generous, and being a listener. That is the best way to bring people along with you. I have always been creative and while my Kenyan Indian family has always been supportive, they might have wanted for me to choose a different more traditional career path, but I think they finally understand my work ethic and practice; they also admire my chutzpah.
“I really try to support young artists trying to make a career of it. I want them to find that resilience which can contribute to a greater global system.”
In addition to his studio art practice, Fernandes teaches both undergraduate courses in wide-ranging topics including queer theory, food, and art and is planning a course of art and fashion.
For further information about the final performance of “72 Seasons” visit