feature: required intelligence, punk artistry in the midwest – krista franklin

March 12, 2014

Folks often think cutting edge artistry is born on the Coasts, but the Midwest is home to some of the most innovative and punk artists out there. Krista Franklin, self-described DIY artist and writer argues that she wouldn’t be the artist she is if she grew up anywhere but outside Dayton, Ohio: “It was quiet and slow. The sense of contemplation and observing things enabled me to see and understand things on a much deeper visual level.” Many artists (myself included) feel that their early tranquil and often rural environments afforded them personal diligence, a foundation to the disciplinarian work ethic the Midwest is known for. From the ingenuity of Franklin to the prowess of fellow Chicagoan Tink, no one can deny being a black—and female—artist in the Midwest requires serious tenacity.
Despite her successes—she’s a co-founder of 2nd Sun Salon, published poet, and current Artist-in-Residence at Arts + Public Life/Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago—she still identifies as an AfroPunk and a community-centric artist. “I’m still surprised when I walk into a gallery and my work’s on the walls,” the she confessed. Drawing inspiration from everything from underground punk movements, ska music scenes, and African Diasporic histories, Franklin’s early work was made out of candy wrappers and litter she found off the street. After moving to Chicago on a whim, her punk and survivalist attitude became the way she marketed her art. “You know, being a creator was the only thing I ever really excelled at. I was selling pieces out of my backpack…I had to learn to hustle and become my own trickster. This requires serious intelligence, but it’s also in our blood.”

By Mali DC, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Franklin explores these histories in her work. Her collages, handmade paper and letterpress prints pay homage to detailed genealogies that are rooted in black iconography and the vernaculars of people of color. Some of Franklin’s most beautiful pieces are a mixed media collage-covered cigar box of Malcolm X, a handmade paper laminate Eddie Murphy, and other early etoile noires.

Her themes of surrealism and utopic and dystopic visions are intricately woven with subtexts of black beauty, self-reflection, and the African Diaspora. A deeply experimental and interdisciplinary artist, her newest exhibit is an interactive space inviting visitors to be “seduced into a space of love.” Library of Love is now on view at the Arts Incubator in Washington Park in Chicago in collaboration with Stephen Flemister, Norman Teague, and Raub Welch, and is accompanied by a digital mix-tape/soundtrack curated exclusively for the project by Perpetual Rebel. Their visual love letter to the city is a place for people to be “seduced into the space of love and embrace moments of respite in self-, romantic-, and community love.”

From letterpress to love nests, Franklin’s work urges viewers to forfeit their insecurity and embrace their own punkness: “Part of being an underprivileged peoples is that you have to be wily in the way you make it happen for yourself. You have to continue to be constantly fearless.”

Early inspirations: Grace Jones, Blondie, and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Advice to all AfroPunks: “You have to maintain hope because the work is important. It’s important to you and to your community.”
Learn more: or download the soundtrack for Library of Love for free online:

* Mali DC is a black, feminist writer from the Twin Cities and co-editor of The New Minnesota Project. Know a Midwestern artist you want covered? Email her with your suggestions or chit chat at newmnproject [at] gmail [dot] com or