It clicked with lots of eye contact – The New York Times | Candle Made Easy

From the moment Derek Fordjour looked into the eyes of Alexis Johara Fikira Hoag at a Christmas party in Brooklyn in December 2019, “I had an immediate interest in her,” he said.

Mr. Fordjour and a friend attended the party hosted by visual artist Hank Willis Thomas. Ms. Hoag was there on a date but had lost interest in her companion when Mr. Fordjour walked over to where she was standing with a group of people. Although they didn’t speak to each other much, they both recall making a lot of eye contact.

As Mr Fordjour, 47, left the party, Ms Hoag, 40, asked how they could keep in touch. Instagram handles were exchanged, followed later by phone numbers. A week after the party, he invited her to dinner, but she declined. She would leave for a trip to South Africa the next day.

The rejection didn’t stop him from sending her a message as she shared her stay in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban on Instagram. Mr Fordjour, an artist whose work has explored issues of racial inequality, had been to South Africa six months earlier and appreciated Ms Hoag’s Instagram comment on the country’s colonial history.

Mr. Fordjour met Ms. Hoag at the end of a breakout year in his career. In the spring of 2019, the Memphis native sold his “Top-Ten ALLSTARS” portrait series to Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In the fall of this year, his work “Agency and Regulation (Study)” was auctioned for more than double its estimate. More recently he has shown work in an outdoor series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and in a solo exhibition at the David Kordansky Gallery in New York.

Although his messages with Ms. Hoag about her journey aren’t “very sexy,” she said his interest in issues close to her heart is appealing to her.

Ms. Hoag, from Southern California, who received her law degree from NYU, worked as a criminal defense attorney for more than a decade before joining the faculty at Brooklyn Law School, where she is now an assistant professor and co-director of the school’s Center for Criminal Justice.

Following their trip, the two had a first date at the Brooklyn Chop House in January 2020. They talked until the restaurant closed about family dynamics and being first-generation Americans with African heritage—her family is from the Chagga tribe in Tanzania, his is from the Ashanti tribe in Ghana.

On their second date two days later at the ROKC restaurant in Upper Manhattan, they were so deep in conversation that Ms. Hoag said, “I think we forgot to eat.”

As their romance developed, Mr Fordjour and Ms Hoag, both previously married, said they benefited from lessons learned in their previous relationships.

Mr Fordjour realized the importance of what he called “intensive self-work” after his previous nine-year marriage ended in divorce in 2013. From this relationship he has a son, Langston Fordjour, who is now 24 years old.

Ms Hoag, who is queer, said after divorcing her wife of two and a half years in 2017, she learned that relationships need continued nurturing and intention. Although she had mostly dated women prior to meeting Mr Fordjour, the two forged a “deep soul connection,” she said, through a shared willingness to be vulnerable.

In the summer of 2020, when New York was hit by a pandemic, the two had moved into an apartment together in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. “It didn’t feel like something to run from,” Ms Hoag said of their relationship, “it felt like something to run towards.”

They got engaged the following year, in December 2021, in a carefully planned proposal orchestrated by Mr Fordjour.

He had his studio director Ms. Hoag send an invitation to a fake arts gala at the Prince George Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan. When she arrived in the suggested cocktail attire, “there was even someone waiting outside with a guest list and a clipboard,” she said. But when she entered the ballroom, she saw a lonely table for two and Mr. Fordjour asking her to marry him.

On July 9, they married in front of 180 guests on Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan. Ms. Hoag’s friend Anita Aboagye-Agyeman, whose family is of the same tribe as Mr. Fordjour’s, officiated after being ordained for the occasion by the US Marriage Department.

At the ceremony, the groom’s son led the bride down the aisle. “I really wanted to get Langston involved in the content,” she said. After the newlywed couple introduced the opening beat of Gucci Mane’s “Freaky Girl,” the couple opened the reception, which was followed by a first dance to Prince’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”

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