new York‘s 21 Questions is back with creative New Yorkers in mind. Qualasha Wood is a textile artist exploring black identity and cyberculture, often through woven selfies. She is Artist in Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem for 2021-22. The Met acquired their weaving mill That [Black] Madonna/whore complex acquired in April and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston Foreva by Cardi B last week.
Surname: Qualasha Wood
Area: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Profession: textile artist
What’s hanging above your couch?
My partner and I don’t have a couch in our apartment. It’s a sore point: We carried it up four flights of stairs only to have it get stuck in the hallway before we could get it inside. We found out that the 4th and 5th floors in my building have been added and the stairwell dimensions are not the same. But above where it should have been is a big round mirror with gold spray paint and shelves with a bunch of crystals on it – some huge pieces of amethyst, citrine because it’s my birth crystal, obsidian, quartz, so many things. They bring good natural energy into the room.
What was your first job in New York?
I hate being the person who says, “My first job was an artist in New York,” but that was it. Nobody here ever wanted to give me a job. I’ve applied for so many jobs, internships, and apprenticeships and only got one interview in four years. So I made art for myself, even if it was just to sell something small.
What color are you always attracted to?
I love anything red. Depending on the context, red can mean so many different things: it’s dangerous, it’s exciting, it’s alluring, and it’s kinda sexy.
What work of art or artifact are you most surprised you own?
That would be Kim Kardashian’s book Egotistical. It was actually a gift from a friend years ago. Little did I know then that it would affect my life. I just thought it was so silly. I’ve used it as a paperweight or something to write notes on. I just flipped through it one day and was inspired by Kim Kardashian’s audacity in marketing herself in a way that she could make a book of selfies she’d taken over the years.
Which New Yorker would you like to hang out with?
Cardi B is so smart and creative, and I respect the diversity she’s had in her career. I have a feeling we’d 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 was the last thing you did with your hands?
I’ve been working on embroidering a tapestry for the last three days, but the last thing I literally made with my hands is a bowl of honeycomb cereal.
Is there one thing that you have multiple versions of?
I collect different U.N Map sets from the last three years. I’ve always been a big one U.N player, and my collection began harmlessly: I had regularly U.N, then I got the Minimalista very plain black cards. I convinced the president of RISD to buy me giant Uno as compensation for something I did. I am now in the process of buying all Mattel creations U.N packs. I have a Nina Chanel Abney set that was a gift, a Keith Haring set and a VeeFriends set. There are about seven more I need to get.
Which New York museum do you keep going to?
I grew up with museums and was always so bored. But I loved the American Museum of Natural History. I didn’t travel much growing up so it was a way to experience the world. I just think it’s wonderful as a human being to think about the world beyond me and all these things that lived and breathed and formed an ecosystem.
What do you always have next to your computer?
Drinking is the last thing you want near electronics. I spilled quite a few on my computers and keyboards. I currently have four bottles of water on my desk.
Where do you have the best view of the city?
Controversial, but New Jersey. Not everyone likes that. But growing up in a beach town in New Jersey and being able to see a vague snippet of the New York City skyline was something that made the world feel huge and grand. On New Years Eve I was visiting a friend who lives in Weehawken and we went to Hamilton Park at 11:59pm just before the ball dropped. The whole city was lit up and the skyline was so beautiful. I think there was a lot of perspective. When you’re in New York, you can’t see it that way. You have to look inside from the outside.
What building or object would you like to redesign every time you see it?
The Guggenheim is my least favorite thing. Maybe it has something to do with the vessel. It’s always looked like a fever dream – this big, white, swirling object that feels like it’s been thrown into the city, with no regard for the surroundings. I get dizzy when I’m inside because everything is in circles. I think it needs a new material or a splash of color. Something more grounded.
What would you change about your specialty?
If I could ban networks, I would. I wish it was easier to make real connections with people, especially other artists. I met someone I know the other day and he just started citing his accomplishments and it was disappointing. Conversations are about seeing what another person is doing and using that as a vehicle to validate or judge yourself. The last thing I ever want to talk about with other artists is the art we make. I love talking about art in the world, what movie we just saw and what music we are listening to. I don’t like it when people say, “Oh, let’s go to your studio and just hang out.” We are artists all the time; I’m interested in who we are outside of that.
If you could live anywhere in New York City, where would it be?
If I were ridiculously rich, I would buy a storage loft in Dumbo with an elevator going straight to my apartment. Dumbo is a nice place where you are close to the bridge and easy access to Manhattan. The food is good and the real estate is fantastic. There’s a romance you always chase when you’re an artist in town, and I think of this Dumbo room as I made it.
What would you hoard if production stopped?
I have already done this. I really got used to Uncrustables earlier this year. I never had them as a kid because my mom just thought, “Why would I buy you a pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich when I could just make one?” I always have a hard time figuring out what to eat when I’m work, so I ordered a box and loved it. I became emotionally dependent on eating one every day. Then suddenly all my grocery orders were refused. I was like What’s happening?! I’ve researched so much. I found out that Smucker’s wasn’t making as many because an ingredient was hard to come by due to the pandemic. A friend who was visiting Michigan called me and said, “They have Uncrustables here. How many do you want?” I said eight boxes, and I’m still working them off.
What do you do to break out of a creative rut?
I create a playlist. I’m trying to think of a mood I’m aiming for with the project or where it needs to go. I know what playlist I listened to for each track I made. There are certain songs I need to hear to feel like I can accomplish something. “Bound” by Kanye West was a song that I overdid while making it That [Black] Madonna/whore complex. I’ve also heard Junglepussy’s “Trader Joe” and a lot of Drake and BbyMutha.
Where was your first apartment in NYC and what was the rent?
The one I’m in right now, in Prospect – Lefferts Gardens. It’s $2,300 a month and thank God I split the rent with my partner. Everywhere I’ve lived in New York before, I’ve slept on friends’ sofas. This is the first place I had my name on a lease.
Where in town do you go alone?
I can turn invisible for a few hours in a coffee shop. The last place I was was Milk and Honey in Flatbush.
Worst career advice you’ve ever received?
“You should wait.” I’ve had people tell me to wait until I apply to the Studio Museum. I wasn’t listening and now I’m an artist in residence. I got “You should wait until you’re older,” especially when I applied to my graduate program. Everyone said, “Why are you doing this? Now? It will benefit your career more later.” And then I like, Well, who says what will benefit my career? I don’t think it’s malicious to say that; I just think we should know our own timing and trust what feels right at the moment. A lot of the things I’ve been able to achieve 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 boyfriend borrow mine dreams of you CD by Selena. I begged for it back for weeks and she finally admitted it got stuck in the CD slot of her mom’s car. My mother never wanted to buy me one again, and I never got another copy. It was one of my most played CDs and I never got over losing it.
What is your favorite New York restaurant and what is your regular order?
Melbas in Harlem. Fried catfish and eggnog waffles are the only things I get there to this day. It comes with strawberry butter and maple syrup, but I add hot sauce. My mom is from the south so I grew up with catfish. It’s pretty hard to find good soul food in New York and this is my favorite place to get it.
What meaningful sentence would you like in your obituary headline?
It would be awesome if there was just a link to my Instagram or Twitter so that people get to know me as I experienced myself instead of someone else telling people how to remember me.