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Online OnlyJun 18, 2023

Imagining with Imagine W/: Circle Squared Screens Black Artist Conversations at the ICA for Juneteenth

Artist CJ Felix and his collective of collaborators launch a docuseries for highlighting emerging artists across a range of disciplines. The resulting episodes are intimate, spontaneous, and welcoming.

Feature by Alula Hunsen

Circle Squared collaborators sit on a couch and chairs in front of a backdrop that features figures.

Circle Squared collaborators share a joyful moment during “Imagine W/ Ambition & Steph” episode in Imagine W/ docuseries. From left to right: cultural curator and Thrill Management and Services (Thrill) co-founder Stephen Lafume, graphic designer and Thrill co-founder Cameron Teleau, musical artist Cashus Knight, Cidjud (CJ) Felix. Photo courtesy of Circle Squared.

Cidjud (CJ) Felix favors matching track and sweatsuits manufactured by Black-owned brands; he cuts a trim, tall figure when standing and in motion, an energetic and kind demeanor flitting about his eyes when we meet for the first time. A budding filmmaker and interviewer conscious of space and of presence, Felix and a team of creative collaborators have formed a collective known as Circle Squared. Their first film work, titled Imagine W/, is screening at the Institute of Contemporary Art on Juneteenth as part of the Boston Ujima Project’s day of programming at the museum. 

Felix describes the piece as an experimental, archival docuseries. The first episode to be released widely, “IMAGINE W/ KEI & PURPOSE: ITERATION 1.10,” features interviews with up-and-coming Black Bostonian musicians (including the titular subject and 2022 Boston Music Awards’ Best New Artist, kei), other artists, and creative minds. Interviews are cut into one another, overlaid at times, and given space to breathe.

Still from IMAGINE W/ KEI & PURPOSE: ITERATION 1.10, the first episode in the Imagine W/ docuseries. From left to right, Boston musical artist kei in conversation with Cidjud (CJ) Felix. Photo courtesy of Circle Squared.

Circle Squared invites viewers to imagine with them—conversations and brief soliloquies explore spirituality, connection with the inner child, creation in communion with the world, and world-building in service of community. Each episode features subject framings that enable us to feel in direct conversation with the people we’re watching; a comforting and place-setting underscore accompanies the dialogue.

The first episode of Imagine W/ has been screened twice locally thus far: once at the Mystic Learning Center in Somerville, and once at the Cambridge Community Center; both premieres centered community and shared artistic practice, beginning with open time to co-mingle, work on self-directed art projects, contribute to a shared mural, and play board games. These community-centered screenings were also opportunities for feedback—a practice that Felix has shared is important to his process.

Still from “Imagine W/ Love & Tisha” episode in Imagine W/ docuseries featuring Moné Wade and CalvinKleinCaterpillar. Edited handheld shot by Michelle Jones and Terence Theus. Photo courtesy of Circle Squared.

Members of the production team for Imagine W/ shared with me that ease, trust, and imaginative participation informs much of the filming process. Musician and producer Angelo LeRoi, who helped score and compose the backing tracks for Imagine W/, spoke to the freedom he felt in his work on the series; he was able to coordinate jam sessions, work as a composer for the first time, and feel responsibility as a co-creator of the series. 

As a creative and experiential consultant for the series, Brian Policard (also known as Qiron) shared that the energy throughout the entire creative process was always collaborative and responsive. On shoot days, the collective would set intentions and build a grounding by working with, as Qiron put it, “the sounds of migratory bodies of knowledge—chants and elements attributed to the invocation of certain Orishas. Yemoja, Shango, and Eshu Elegbara [Yoruban deities] contributed elemental sounds and a trickster’s sense of temporal fluidity and non-linearity.” 

Creative imagination and liberation were key touchpoints in the making of and ideation behind Imagine W/; Qiron relayed that through their groundings, they wished to “offer a portal for folks to create their own access points towards collective imaginaries, through the practice of dreaming and dream sharing,” while Angelo’s interpretation expanded to indicate that for him, it was “liberation from what’s familiar and imagination of something better.” 

Natural synchronicity was a focal point expressed amongst Angelo, Felix, and Qiron alike in their experience of Imagine W/, and something that comes across in the episodes. There’s a natural spontaneity too; clips within the series don’t feel like interviews as much as they do spur-of-the-moment conversations and confabs among friends. Questions are shared with genuine curiosity, and it’s unclear at times who the interviewer is. Imagine W/ prioritizes communicating its experience over pressing for information or imposing a structure on the filmed pieces. In Felix’s illumination, he wished for “collaboration with intuition and our whole ecosystem… in production, the objective was to set space for God/ideal spontaneity to be present.” 

Still from “Imagine W/ Love & Tisha” episode in the Imagine W/ docuseries featuring Moné Wade, 2023. Edited handheld shot by Michelle Jones and Terence Theus. Photo courtesy of Circle Squared.

Circle Squared is learning and exploring in part through doing, building processes and systems to connect community, a commitment which will be on display at the ICA on Monday. The Boston Ujima Project’s Cultural and Arts Organizing team selected Imagine W/, along with other short film projects, to celebrate independent Black visual productions at the institute; Mari Gashaw, community engagement manager at Ujima, was crucial in developing the relationship with Circle Squared.

Imagine W/ is only one outlet for this collective; they also hold a weekly health and wellness activities space on Thursdays at the Cambridge Community Center (called “Recess”) and have an expansionary aim to bring their programming into more physical spaces. In the meantime, their invitation to dive in is open to us all.


The first two episodes of Imagine W/ will screen at ICA/Boston on June 19, 2023, from 1:15–3:00 PM as part of the museum’s free Juneteenth celebration presented in partnership with Boston Ujima Project. Free tickets are available here.

 

 

Alula Hunsen

Contributor

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