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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

'HOOPS' portrait project tells the stories of people's connection to hoop earrings

Milwaukee artist, Nicole Acosta, photographed people in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles for the HOOPS project.
Teran Powell
Milwaukee artist Nicole Acosta photographed people in Milwaukee, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles for the HOOPS Project.

A local artist’s portrait project dedicated to hoop earrings is being adapted for the stage.

The project, aptly titled HOOPS, originated from Milwaukee native Nicole Acosta in 2019. Acosta is a member of the Latinx art collective LUNA.

The HOOPS Project began with photographs of the LUNA artists in their hoop earrings, along with stories about what hoops meant to them.

The photos spread around the globe with people as far away as Australia and South Africa sharing their hoop earring stories.

Portraits featured in the HOOPS exhibition.
Portraits featured in the HOOPS exhibition.

The stage adaption of Acosta’s project opens March 10 at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.

Three actors will be playing more than 20 characters performing real life narratives of people’s connection to hoop earrings. There are monologues, partnered performances and even some comedic bits.

Paulina Lule (left) and Celia Mandela Rivera do a script read for the stage play HOOPS.
Teran Powell
Paulina Lule (left) and Celia Mandela Rivera do a script read for the stage play "HOOPS."

In early February, the "HOOPS" photo exhibition opened at the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network in the Third Ward as sort of a teaser to get the community excited about the stage adaption. The exhibit is open until April 2.

"HOOPS" is artist Nicole Acosta’s first solo exhibition. It features people she photographed in Milwaukee, Chicago, Brooklyn, Albany and Los Angeles. And it’s the first time the photos have been shown as a cohesive body of work.

Acosta uses words like identity, culture, reclamation and memory to describe the meaning of hoops in her life.

She remembers her grandmother gifting her a pair of hoop earrings at her quinceañera, the celebration of a young Latina turning 15 and entering womanhood.

There’s a picture of that moment in the exhibition.

"I had no clue ever in a million years that people would care that much about their own hoop earrings," Acosta says. "I know what it means to me, and like my friends and like my family, my community. I had no idea. You know, I think it’s just something that’s deeply personal for us individually, and I don’t know if we ever really recognized that collectively, like about how much hoop earrings mean to us."

Featured portraits in the HOOPS exhibition.
Teran Powell
Featured portraits in the "HOOPS" exhibition.

Acosta says she sees the exhibition as a moment for Black, brown, Indigenous and other people of the global majority to see themselves in a space that doesn’t always recognize them or care about their stories.

She says the show breaks down stigma and stereotypes of how people are perceived when they wear hoops.

"I hate to say, like, the perception to the outside world sometimes is like, 'Oh that’s ghetto,' or unprofessional or whatever the case may be. But there’s a story behind these hoops."


Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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