21 Questions With Textile Artist Qualeasha Wood

Gerard Ortiz

New York’s “21 Questions” is back with an eye on creative New Yorkers. Qualeasha Wood is a textile artist who explores Black identity and cyberculture, often through woven selfies. She’s a 2021–22 resident artist at the Studio Museum in Harlem. The Met acquired her weaving The [Black] Madonna/Whore Complex in April, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston acquired Foreva by Cardi B last week.

Name: Qualeasha Wood
Age: 25
Neighborhood: Prospect–Lefferts Gardens
Occupation: Textile artist

What’s hanging above your couch?
My partner and I don’t have a couch in our apartment. It’s a sore spot: We carried it up four flights of stairs only for it to get stuck in the hallway before we could get it inside. We found out it’s because the fourth and fifth floors in my building were an addition, and the stairwell measurements aren’t the same. But above where it would have gone is a big circle mirror with gold spray-painted trim and shelves with a bunch of crystals on them — some huge chunks of amethyst, citrine because it’s my birth crystal, obsidian, quartz, so many things. They bring good natural energy into the space.

What’s the first job you had in New York?
I hate to be the person that’s like, “My first job was being an artist in New York,” but it was. No one ever wanted to give me a job here. I’ve applied to so many jobs, internships, and apprenticeships and only got one interview in four years. So I made art work for me, even if it was just selling something small.

What color are you always drawn to?
I love anything that’s red. Depending on the context, red could mean so many different things: It’s dangerous, it’s exciting, it’s alluring, and it’s kind of sexy.

What work of art or artifact are you most surprised you own?
That would be Kim Kardashian’s book, Selfish. It was actually a gift from a friend years ago. At the time, I didn’t know it would have an impact on my life. I just thought it was so silly. I used it as a paperweight or something to write notes on. Then one day I just flipped through it and was inspired by the audacity of Kim Kardashian marketing herself to the degree that she could make a book of selfies she’s taken over the years.

Which New Yorker would you want to hang out with?
Cardi B is so smart and creative, and I respect the variety she’s had in her career. I feel like we would 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 about politics.

What’s the last thing you made with your hands?
I’ve been working on beading 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 you own multiple versions of?
I’ve been collecting different Uno card sets for the past three years. I’ve always been a big Uno player, and my collection started innocently: I had regular Uno, then I got the Minimalista very sleek black cards. I convinced the president of RISD to buy me Giant Uno as compensation for something I did. I’m now in the process of trying to buy all of the Mattel Creations Uno packs. I have a Nina Chanel Abney one that was a gift, a Keith Haring set, and a VeeFriends set. There are like seven more I need to get.

What New York City museum do you always go back to?
I grew up going to museums and was always so bored. But I loved the American Museum of Natural History. I didn’t travel much when I was growing up, so going there was a way to experience the world. I just think it’s so marvelous to think about the world beyond me as a human and all of these things that were living and breathing and making up an ecosystem.

What do you always have next to your computer? 
Something to drink, which is the last thing you really want near any electronics. I’ve spilled quite a few onto my computers and keyboards. Right now I have four bottles of water on my desk.

Where is the best view of the city?
Controversial, but New Jersey. Everyone doesn’t like that. But growing up in New Jersey in a beach town and being able to see a vague amount of the New York skyline was something that made the world feel huge and magnificent. For New Year’s, I visited a friend who lives in Weehawken and we went to Hamilton Park at 11:59 p.m., right before the ball dropped. The whole city was lit up, and the skyline was so beautiful. I think it provided a lot of perspective. If you’re in New York, you can’t see it that way. You have to be on the outside looking in.

What building or object do you want to redesign every time you see it?
The Guggenheim is my least favorite thing to look at. Maybe it’s tied with the Vessel. It’s always looked like a fever dream — this big, white swirling object that feels like it was thrown into the city with no consideration for what’s around it. I feel dizzy when I’m inside since everything is in a circle. I think it needs a new material or a splash of color. Something that’s more grounding.

What’s one thing you would change about your field? 
If I could ban networking, I would. I wish it were easier to form genuine connections with people, especially with other artists. I ran into someone I know recently, and he just started rattling off his accomplishments, and it was disappointing. Conversations become about seeing what another person is doing and using that as a way to affirm or judge yourself. The last thing I ever want to talk about with other artists is the art that we’re making. I love talking about art in the world, what film we just saw, and what music we’re listening to. I don’t love when people are like, “Oh, let’s go to your studio and just hang out.” We’re 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 wealthy, I would buy a warehouse loft in Dumbo with an elevator that goes straight into my apartment. Dumbo is a nice spot where you’re near the bridge with easy access to Manhattan, there’s good food to eat, and the real estate is amazing. There’s a romanticism you’re always chasing after when you’re an artist in the city, and I think of that Dumbo space as, Oh, I’ve made it.

What would you hoard if it stopped being produced?
I already did this. I got really attached to Uncrustables at the beginning of the year. I never had them as a kid because my mom was just like, “Why would I buy you a premade 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 working, so I ordered a box and was hooked. I became emotionally dependent on eating one every day. Then, suddenly, it started to get denied on all my grocery orders. I was like, What’s going on?! I was doing so much research. I found out that Smucker’s wasn’t producing as many because an ingredient was hard to get 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 through them.

What do you do to get out of a creative rut? 
I make a playlist. I try to think of a vibe I’m going for with the project or where it needs to go. I know what playlist I was listening to for every piece I’ve made. There are certain songs I have to hear to feel like I can get anything accomplished. “Bound,” by Kanye West, was a song I overplayed while I was making The [Black] Madonna/Whore Complex. I also listened to “Trader Joe” by Junglepussy and a lot of Drake and BbyMutha.

Where was your first NYC apartment, and how much was the rent? 
The one I’m in now in Prospect–Lefferts Gardens. It’s $2,300 a month, and thank God I share the rent with my partner. Everywhere I’ve lived in New York before, I was staying with friends on their couches. This is the first place where I’ve had my name on a lease.

Where in the city do you go to be alone?
At a coffee shop, I can blend in and become invisible for a few hours. The last one I went to was Milk and Honey, in Flatbush.

Worst piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten? 
“You should wait.” I had people tell me I should wait to apply to the Studio Museum. I didn’t listen, and now I’m an artist in residence. I got “You should wait until you’re older,” especially when I was applying to my grad program. Everyone was like, “Why are you doing this? Now? It’s going to benefit your career more later.” And I was like, Well, who’s to say what benefits my career? I don’t think it’s a malicious thing to say; I just think that we know our own timing, and we should trust what feels right in the moment. A lot of the things I have been able to accomplish in my career happened because I didn’t wait.

What have you given away to someone that you wish you could get back? 
In fourth grade, I let my friend borrow my Dreaming of You CD, by Selena. I asked to have it back for weeks and weeks, and she finally admitted that it got stuck in her mom’s car’s CD slot. My mom wouldn’t buy me another one, and I never got another copy. It was one of my most played CDs, and I never got over losing it.

What’s your favorite NYC restaurant and regular order?
Melba’s, in Harlem. Fried catfish and eggnog waffles are the only thing I get there to this day. It comes with strawberry butter and maple syrup, but I add hot sauce to it. My mom’s from the South, so I grew up eating catfish. It’s kind of hard to get good soul food in New York, and this is my favorite place for it.

What descriptive phrase do you want on your obit headline?
It would be awesome if it was just a link to my Instagram or Twitter so that people could get to know me as I experienced me instead of someone else telling people how they should remember me.

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