The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

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FEB 2023 Issue
In Memoriam


Portrait of John Sims, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
Portrait of John Sims, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.

When he walked in, you knew it
well over 6’ (does anyone know
how tall he was exactly? (6’4?))
with ferocious soul
and hair to match
it was John Sims.

John Sims, polymath
artist also actual math-
ematician, activist always
sweet and gentle man died
unexpectedly over the holidays.

His many projects will live on,
of course, or let’s hope they do.

Detroit native, central to
Sarasota cultural scene
artist in residence at The Ringling
taught at Ringling College
the MathArt course he created
still part of their curriculum.

He would make
several swings
through New York
each year, filling us
up with his latest news,
his latest ideas,
his latest projects.

The Confederacy projects
were always in movement –
when John said he was going
to hang a Confederate flag
in his show, he did exactly that –
in a noose. On a scaffold.
Various flags in varying configurations.

Recoloration Proclamation

SquareRoots: A Quilted Manifesto with Amish quilters

Rhythm of Structure more math, more art

The LP AfroDixie Remix, 13 tracks of “Dixie”
in genres of Black music: Spiritual, Blues,
Gospel, Jazz, Funk Calypso, Samba, Soul,
R&B, House, Hip Hop. 
Liner notes by Greg Tate.

There was the SquareRoot of Love
performance he did at Bowery
with Karen Finley. Just before COVID
they performed, (Di)Visions of America
at LaMama which was set
to play Lincoln Center.

The Geometry of Time exhibition
at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Π Day, his creation
(he loved Π!)
where Π is celebrated
an alternative Valentine’s Day.

During a residency in Charleston, 2021,
in the middle of the night, two cops
entered his studio where he was asleep,
demanding, with guns drawn,
what he was doing there, handcuffing John
who was working on a film,
Near Death Residency,
when he died.

The sudden way
he passed away
word spread about his death
First he was dead, then
he wasn’t, then no news
anywhere. Then he was dead again.

Friends started calling. Danny Simmons calls with news, then says hold off
posting, because… no real because. Danny was Art Editor of the new A
Gathering of the Tribes
: The Black Lives Matter issue (edited by Ishmael
Reed) that has a John Sims cover. Yes, John himself staring out at you from
behind a COVID mask with “BLM” Sharpied on it. Sims, smack in the
middle of the cover of Tribes #16. John was intent on getting his art into
the hands of the people and here he is. A self-portrait of John Sims so we
can remember right now.

During this flood of death texts and rebirth phone calls, Reverend Billy
Talen rang, his voice a huge question mark, full of disbelief. John had just
visited Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping that Sunday. The next night he’s at
the party for Tribes #16 at the Bowery. He had been on the Rev’s podcast.
This couldn’t be true, right? What happened what happened what

I spoke with Karen Finley who truly just didn’t get it, John Sims is not dead, we agreed. Not Mr. Full of Life. That vibrant spirit ain’t ever gonna get gone.

Finally, Jackie Patrone called from Sarasota. I’d just met her, with John,
also at the Black Lives Matter Tribes zine where she’d been part of John’s
posse, patrons of the arts, friends. She had the info. Yes, John was dead.
Found lying on his back on his neighbor’s lawn, December 11, 2022.
Probably a heart attack. He was 54.

John Sims no-pressure
cooker one of a kind.
He and I would bemoan
what had happened
to the word “unique”
with the advent of
“very unique.” “Unique,”
we reckoned, is more
unique than “very unique,”
because unique IS one
of a kind, any adverb
would diminish that quality.

It would compare
that which cannot
be compared.
No comparison,
unique as
John Sims

John Sims, <em>2020: A Self Portrait</em>, 2020.
John Sims, 2020: A Self Portrait, 2020.

John Sims, <em>AfroConfederate Battle Flag</em>, 24 x24 feet. Featured in the Rally against the Confederate State of Mind at South Carolina State House in remembrance the of Charleston Nine, June 17, 2021.
John Sims, AfroConfederate Battle Flag, 24 x24 feet. Featured in the Rally against the Confederate State of Mind at South Carolina State House in remembrance the of Charleston Nine, June 17, 2021.

Installation shot: <em>AfroDixia: A Righteous Confiscation</em>, 2021. Featured work: John Sims, <em>The Proper Way to Hang Five Major Confederate Flags, </em>2021, at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, Columbia, SC.
Installation shot: AfroDixia: A Righteous Confiscation, 2021. Featured work: John Sims, The Proper Way to Hang Five Major Confederate Flags, 2021, at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art, Columbia, SC.

Commemorative Events

There has already been a gathering at Sims’s boyhood home Detroit.

The New York gathering of John's friends will be held at the Earthchxrch,
hosted by Revbilly & the Stop Shopping Choir
36 Ave C at E 3rd St, Loisaida in the East Village
Sunday February 12, 2023 at 3 p.m.
There will be readings of John's work stories shared.

John Sims Honoring Event at The Ringling, Sarasota, FL.
Monday February 13, 2023
Historic Asolo Theater
6 to 9 p.m.
There will be an exhibition of John's Afro-Dixie Mixtapes, the Confederacy iconography
deconstructions: including flag-hanging, burning, and the Near-Death show in Columbia,
the confederate-yankee gay nuptials, Pi Day, his publications and tapes…
Friends, academics, collaborators and loved ones will speak.


Bob Holman

Bob Holman is an American poet and poetry activist, most closely identified with the oral tradition, the spoken word, and poetry slam.


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2023

All Issues