Souleo is a man of many interests. At just 27-year-old the New York City resident is already a veteran journalist who has interviewed numerous celebrated artists, actors, and musicians.
The Brown University graduate began his career as a DJ at 95.5 WBRU in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, his weekly art column, “Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the ‘A’ w/Souleo”, is syndicated on several media outlets including EBONY.com, SoulTrain.com, RollingOut.com, AmesterdamNews.com, HarlemWorldMag.com, HarlemAA.org, and his own site, SouleoUniverse.com.
Besides writing about the art community, Souleo uses the media content production company he founded, Souleo Enterprises, to support and empower the arts and culture community with multi-medium exhibitions like AARP’s first art exhibit Lasting Legacy: The Journey of You.
Before Souleo embarks on taking his curating talents and the amazing works of some of his associated artists beyond the 5 Boroughs, DZI: The Voice got the opportunity to turn the tables and make the renaissance man the interviewee. In this exclusive Q&A, Souleo speaks on transitioning into the role of art curator, his upcoming exhibitions, his favorite interview subjects, and more.
Yohance Kyles: What inspired you to start your company Souleo Enterprises?
Souleo: I began with creative writing such as poetry and short stories. At the age of 15 I swore I was going to be a published writer like one of my idols, James Baldwin, but it didn’t pan out that way. So after going to college at Brown University and deciding to try my hand at radio for WBRU, I got bit by the media bug. I loved the instant gratification that media gives and recognized the power that comes with it. Of course with power you have to be responsible, and I always respected those who used their platforms to empower others and uplift communities. So to have my own brand in these efforts I created Souleo Enterprises, and it’s been evolving ever since.
YK: You’ve worked in radio, television, print media, and online media. Is there one medium you favor to work in more?
Souleo: I find great value in them all, but I really enjoy on-camera work. I like the whole visual aspect of it, combined with great writing, and getting to wear stylish outfits. So that would be my number one medium for my media projects. I guess you can say I am a ham for the cameras.
YK: Why did you decide to move into the art curating?
Souleo: I decided to curate after a meeting with Lisa Hayes, director of Strivers Gardens Gallery. She had mentioned wanting to do something new with the space. I went home, thought about it and said, “well maybe I should be the one to help her with this vision”. I always like to challenge myself by taking on new and exciting adventures. I was also motivated by my desire to promote the visual art of my brother, Glenn “Spoof” Wright, who was tragically murdered and my partner, Beau McCall.
YK: What is your creative process when putting together an exhibition you’re curating?
Souleo: I begin with a theme or concept. Since I come from a background in media I look for something timely, universal, and unique. I ask myself, “would I want to see or write about this?” Once I have a concept I seek out artists with pieces that may fit that theme. During this process the concept always becomes deeper and richer, because as a curator you have to follow the art and be open to how it may help to broaden the scope of your original idea. So I research artists online, do studio visits, pick the brain of each artist, write up exhibition materials, oversee the marketing, and ensure that everything stays true to the integrity of the art.
…as someone who is only 27 I still saw the importance of thinking serious about one’s future and what we want to leave behind for others.
YK: Your most recent show Lasting Legacy: The Journey of You was AARP New York’s first art exhibition. What drove you to want to take on that particular exhibit?
Souleo: Dionne Polite of AARP presented the initial idea of this exhibition to me. She wanted to do something using visual art as a means to engage the community and to begin a dialogue about this idea of creating a living and lasting legacy for oneself after turning 50. I loved the idea because as someone who is only 27 I still saw the importance of thinking serious about one’s future and what we want to leave behind for others. Plus, this was an opportunity to make history, as it’s the first-ever AARP exhibition. You don’t always get chances to make some sort of meaningful history in life so I couldn’t say no.
YK: You are working on an upcoming exhibition entitled Motown to Def Jam. Can you give a preview of what the public can expect to experience at the show?
Souleo: I am very excited about this ambitious project that I am working on with ArtCrawl Harlem. This art exhibition in celebration of African-American Music Appreciation Month, pays tribute to socially conscious music created by recording artists from Chess Records, Stax Records, Motown, Philadelphia International Records, and Def Jam.
I am curating four galleries in Harlem featuring the works of visual artists in reference to the songs of Muddy Waters, The Staple Singers, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The O’Jays, Public Enemy, and more. On Saturday, June 15, we will have a special trolley bus tour to each gallery and a reception with food, live music and more.
YK: Later this summer you will also be co-curating the visual art debut of legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles. How did you connect with Peebles and what artistic medium will he be displaying during that exhibit?
Souleo: I had the opportunity to interview him and we just connected. He is so witty, wise, and youthful. I read that he did visual art, and I asked to see some of it. Once Lisa Hayes and I saw his work we just knew that it deserved to be displayed. So this will be his debut as a visual artist. I can’t give away too many details at the moment, but visit my website for more updates soon. The exhibition will run at Strivers Gardens Gallery from August 15-October 17.
YK: Can you just talk about your relationship with the Harlem Arts Alliance? How did that collaboration come about?
Souleo: I met the former director, Michael Unthank, at a community board meeting where he was giving a presentation. I introduced myself and requested a meeting to learn more about the Harlem Arts Alliance. From that meeting we connected, and Michael, along with Kim George and Voza Rivers, really gave me the freedom to develop some new projects for the organization.
For me the arts and culture community always need more exposure especially those who operate independently. So I created a weekly column focusing on those members and the broader community.
I also created a youth mentorship group called CULTURE CRASHERS which I am hoping to relaunch soon. I look forward to seeing how my relationship evolves with the organization as we have a wonderful new director, Linda Walton.
In this industry there are so many superficial people, so when I come across those that speak truth, try to live in it and share it with others—well I could just speak to them all day.
YK: You have had the opportunity to interview several celebrities. Who have been some of your favorite interview subjects?
Souleo: I’ve interviewed too many to remember them all, but a few certainly stand out such as Sarah Dash, Amerie, Kim Coles, Kenneth Gamble, Melvin Van Peebles, Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets, and Melba Moore. With each of them they were just so real, honest, and open. They had an abundance of wisdom, and I learned so much from them. In this industry there are so many superficial people, so when I come across those that speak truth, try to live in it and share it with others—well I could just speak to them all day.
YK: You are also well known for your bold fashion, which in itself can be considered walking works of art. Where do you draw inspiration from when putting together your ensembles?
Souleo: My partner, Beau McCall, helps style most of my looks, and we just have fun. I love anything that is fun, sexy, and eye-catching. So I am always looking for new ways to express myself with style. To me style should be a statement, and with my outfits I love challenging the idea of what a man should or shouldn’t wear. One of my favorite style icons is Nick Ashford.
YK: What are your top 3 favorite movies, albums, and television shows of all time?
Souleo: Oh, this is hard. I can only say my top 3 for all of time at the moment. Ask me again next month and it will change. Movies: Eve’s Bayou, Central Station, and Beautiful Thing. TV Shows: “Golden Girls”, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, and “Enlightened”. Albums: anything by Sarah Dash, Annette Taylor, and Shelby Lynne.
YK: Is there anything else you want to share?
Souleo: I just wish to urge people to continue to support arts and culture in your community. We need to invest in these programs so that we can sustain them and develop new ones. Often people want to wait until gentrification happens, and they see others taking over what was in their community for so long. But if we support our local and independent art professionals more then we can always ensure that our voice is heard.
Also, April 26-May 6 I am bringing my New York exhibition, Art Enology, to Philadelphia with some new artists. The exhibition features artists repurposing wine and wine bottles into stunning works of art.
For more info about Souleo click it.
For more info about the Motown to Def Jam exhibition click it.
For more info about the Art Enology Philadelphia exhibition click it.
To connect with Souleo follow him @Souleo
Check out video of the Souleo curated Art Enology exhibit: