February 16, 2023

Co-Curators, Nadiya Jackson & Florence BlackWell Discuss their upcoming exhibition, The Ultimate Boon, at Union Hall

Tai Bickham


February is Black History Month! It is a time to honor and celebrate the contributions and achievements made by Black and African American people in this country, past and present. In recognition of Black History Month, we’re spotlighting those within our community who create, educate, motivate and encourage exploration. 

Opening on Thursday, February 23, 2023, at Union Hall is Rough Gems: The Ultimate Boon. Rough Gems is Union Hall’s annual open call and collaborative curatorial program, showcasing the work of three Denver-based curators/curatorial teams in a rotating pop-up exhibition format. I emailed with Nadiya Jackson and Florence Blackwell, the curators behind The Ultimate Boon, the second exhibition in the Rough Gems series, to learn more about the exhibition that highlights the works of five emerging artists utilizing art to interpret life experiences to reach their boon.

**Boon (noun) is a thing that is helpful or beneficial.

Person sitting on a couch in a retro room, with their hands to themselves. There is a big abstract artwork directly above them on the couch.

Image: Black Liberation Army Member Ojore Lutalo at the Graduate Cincinnati, Xavley, 2022


Hi Florence and Nadiya! How are you both doing? 

Nadiya: I’m doing fantastic! We’re in the second month of the year and it’s been nonstop of blessings and challenges that propel growth, I’m pretty excited!

Florence: I’m living to the fullest!

You collaborated on curating the upcoming exhibition at Union Hall, Rough Gems: The Ultimate Boon, opening February 23rd. Could you share what inspired the concept of this exhibition? 

Nadiya: It started with Florence and I having a conversation and fellowship with one another. The question: What do we want to see in the world? It was a compass to help us navigate how to shape the exhibition. We thought about all the amazing artists in our orbit who we believed needed to be highlighted and receive recognition. Once we finalized our featured artists and then began looking for a common thread, we came to discover that not only were they amazing artists with incredible works in their repertoire, but they had a distinctive voice within their art that reflects their personal journeys and values. 

Florence: As we were approaching artists, we had many conversations about our own positionalities, and were conscientious about creating a show that would be especially inclusive of overlooked narratives and speak to many experiences. We both regard the artists in our lives or those who’ve had impacted us as hero’s, so this framework allowed us to expand our outreach to creatives whose practices are not typically represented in conventional exhibition settings.

How have you seen the accessibility of art and curation of art expand and become more inclusive of people of color and the LGBTQI+? 

Nadiya: There’s definitely an effort to become more exclusive, but Denver certainly has a longer way to go and step out of the idea of playing it safe. I’m really grateful for Union Hall and the intentionality they put into the shows they curate and the guest curators and artists they have featured in their space. I recall the first two shows I attended at Union Hall featured Queer people of color, and it felt so aligned that our show be included in their roster of Union Hall’s exhibits. 


Florence: Art can be experienced virtually or in-person, and it’s incredible to witness an abundance of overlooked artists/creatives galvanizing to create exhibitions or experiences in a variety of settings, such as a studio split between several friends or produced on online platforms. As a Black transgender woman and an art historian myself, I aim to provide affirming environments for historically marginalized people to understand our limitless potential and the vastness of our gifts and stories through relational interactions with visual and performing arts.


Nadiya: It’s so fun how some of the artists are our friends, or how this process and the exhibit has allowed a friendship to foster with some of the artists. There’s Coltyn Cody, who is a longtime dear friend of mine and an incredible artist. All he needs is a graphite pencil and a notebook, and I’m certain he will rock your world with his realism approach but also his critical eye of the world and deep admiration of fables.

It’s been a blast getting to know Isaac Lee Jordan and his passion and eye for textile and fabrication art. I admire how resourceful and sustainable his weavings are. He strictly works with plastic bags, which is an extremely abundant material in his world. The fact that he makes these intricate weavings with plastic makes me feel like I can make a masterpiece with all the plastic bags I have in my home, but then again, I should leave it to the mastermind. It’s one of the things that makes me so excited about this show, the relatability and the accessibility of materials. 

We have a photographer who is committed to only shooting on an iPhone. Eduardo Vasquez and his long journey of coming from Mexico City to the United States truly embodies The Ultimate Boon. I find it to be absolutely incredible how he took a device everyone has at their fingertips and continues to push the envelope further to discover the country and his passion for photography.  

I will never forget G.I.M.H being the first song to play on aux when I drove off the lot with my first car. Xavier Hadley, also known musically as Xavley, is a multi-hyphenate artist who utilizes the multitudes of memory function to shape the worlds he creates through his poetry, music, and photography.  

Lizeth Guadalupe is an artist who devotes work to encompass biographical narratives of family, physical wealth, and culture. Her practices range from painting, jewelry production, and sculpture. We were attracted to her works because of her devotion and persistence of creating equity and inclusion in every gallery she is featured in. 

Florence: The exhibition consists of friends, old and new. Lizeth Guadalupe is an artist I knew from my undergraduate career, and it’s been amazing to see how her projects and approaches to making have blossomed since we met on the Auraria Campus several years ago.

I discovered Isaac Jordan Lee’s work during my barista days when he displayed a plastic bag installation at The Whittier Café. I was instantly captivated by the colors he chose, and perplexed by the material. Furthermore, I knew I wanted to work with him when the right opportunity arose.

I met Eduardo Vazquez six months ago by way of his purchasing a cold-press juice from his family’s business, Integrity Juice. We began talking about our penchants for photography, and from that point, I was deeply invested in his journey as an iphoneographer and Mexican-American émigré.

Nadiya and I were committed to showcasing artists outside the Denver area who invite multiple disciplines into their orbit such as Portland-based Cody’s experimentation with drawing, sculpture, and poetry, and Brooklyn-based Xavier Hadley (aka Xavley) visual and sonic works that consistently blend sound, words, and film photography.

Basin of water surrounded by first, nothingness, then hills and tall trees. Around the basin is a ring of rainbow colors.

Image: Bleeding Colors, Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, WY, Eduardo Vazquez. 2020.


The Ultimate Boon is in conjunction with Denver’s Month of Photography in March. Do you both gravitate towards photography as an art medium and if so, why? How do you uniquely view photography as a medium different from other mediums?

Nadiya: I gravitate more to motion pictures rather than photography. You’re offered 24 photographs per second, so I find it to be more immersive for me personally. Photography is a timeless medium, a picture really lasts forever, and it’s amazing how everyone can partake in that practice. It’s often a ritual to go through photobooks and be moved by the documentation of people and events. It’s also a medium where people expand the capacity for creativity and depth in a photograph. 

Florence: I am a practicing photographic artist, so I have an affinity for both still and moving images. Photography is a medium that is ever-expanding, being integrated in numerous disciplines, and it’s certainly the vernacular of the present moment, as Nadiya said.

New year, new things! What are you both looking forward to for 2023? 

Nadiya: I am excited to witness my life evolve. THE ULTIMATE BOON is starting my year off with a bang, and I am open to receive more of my own boons and continue to step into my highest self. 2022 felt like a floating year, and 2023 is already setting the tone of grit and creating an abundant life for myself and loved ones. 

Florence: I am excited to expand my knowledge as an art historian and prepare for my next chapter after Denver. 


Rough Gems:The Ultimate Boon opens at Union Hall February 23. For more information, visit